Copyright law balances the copyright owner’s interest in protecting the integrity of the work and being paid for its use with the public interest in allowing the use of works for purposes such as education and research. At Lethbridge College, copyright is covered by:

  • the Canadian Copyright Act
  • our copyright and intellectual property policies
  • various agreements and licences we have entered with copyright owners and representative organizations

Copyright applies as soon as a work is created – whether it is a draft or a final product. That said, there are two things that cannot be copyrighted: facts and ideas. This means a fact like “Mercury is 57.91 million kilometres from the sun” cannot be copyrighted and, while the Harry Potter series is copyrighted, the idea of a child wizard battling an evil wizard is not.

Copyright and the public domain

In Canada, copyright usually expires 50 calendar years after the death of the creator. While other countries may have different copyright laws, the use of a work in Canada is governed by Canadian copyright laws.

When a copyright expires, the work is said to enter the public domain. There are no restrictions on copying or adapting works in the public domain, though it is good academic practice to identify the source when possible.

Even if an original work is in the public domain, modern reproductions may be copyrighted. When a work undergoes significant alteration, it may be considered a new work with a separate copyright term and different copyright ownership. Examples include:

  • Shakespeare’s original works, which are in the public domain. Many modern publications of his works include added original material in the form of annotations, translations, footnotes and prefaces. These added materials are protected by copyright.
  • The Mona Lisa painting, which is also in the public domain. However, photos of it, if they have sufficient originality, may count as separate works. There may also be an additional copyright on the photo if it is published in a book.

It is always safest to assume a work is protected by copyright unless there is a strong indication that it isn’t.

Public domain online

Just because a work has been shared online and is publicly available does not mean it is in the public domain. In fact, the majority of online materials are protected by copyright. However, many uses of online material are permitted under fair dealing and educational exceptions. You can find those exceptions here .

Creative commons

Some copyright owners grant public use of their works through creative commons licensing. You can use these works without acquiring the copyright owner’s permission as long as your use still adheres to the creative commons licensing. For more on creative commons, visit

Fair dealing

Fair dealing permits the use of a copyright-protected work without permission from the copyright owner or the payment of royalties. To qualify for fair dealing, the intended use of a work must pass two tests.

  1. Does your use fall under one of the following purposes: research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody?
  2. Is your use fair? The following factors are considered to determine if a use is fair.
    • Purpose: Is your use for research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody? Is it a commercial or non-commercial use?
    • Character: Are you using single or multiple copies? Is the copy to be destroyed after its use? How widely is it to be distributed? What was done to the work?
    • Amount: How much is the proposed copying? What is the proportion of the proposed copying to the whole work? What is the importance of that excerpt in relation to the whole work?
    • Alternatives: Is there a non-copyrighted equivalent available? Is the work necessary for the end result? Could the intended purpose be achieved without the work?
    • Nature: Is the work currently published or unpublished? Is there public interest in the dissemination of the work?
    • Effect: Will your use of the work compete with the commercial market of the original?

It is not necessary for your use to meet all of these factors to be fair and no one factor is determinative by itself. The relevant purpose of fair dealing is the end user's purpose, and as instructors and staff of an educational institution we facilitate the research and private study of our students. This means many uses of copyright-protected works in the classroom are permitted. For some of the common dos and don'ts of copyright, check out copyright in the classroom.


The Copyright Act outlines the following fair dealing guidelines:

  1. Teachers, instructors, professors and staff members in non-profit educational institutions may communicate and reproduce, in paper or electronic form, short excerpts from a copyright-protected work for the purposes of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire and parody.
  2. Copying or communicating short excerpts from a copyright-protected work under fair dealing for the purpose of news reporting, criticism or review should mention the source and, if given the source, the name of the author or creator.
  3. A single copy of a short excerpt from a copyright-protected work may be provided or communicated to each student enrolled in a class as:
    • a class handout
    • a posting to a course management system that is password protected or otherwise restricts access to students of an educational institution
    • part of a course pack
  4. A short excerpt is:
    • up to 10 per cent of a work (includes literary works, musical scores, sound recordings and audiovisual works)
    • one chapter from a book
    • a single article from a periodical or journal
    • an entire artistic work (including a painting, print, photograph, diagram, drawing, map, chart or plan) from a work that contains other artistic works
    • an entire newspaper article or page
    • an entire single poem or musical score from a work containing other poems/scores
    • an entire entry from an encyclopedia, annotated bibliography, dictionary or similar reference work
  5. Copying or communicating multiple short excerpts from the same copyright-protected work, with the intention of copying or communicating substantially the entire work is prohibited.
  6. Copying or communicating that exceeds the limits of fair dealing should be referred to the copyright advisor for evaluation. An evaluation of whether the proposed copying or communication is permitted will be made based on all relevant circumstances.

Any fee charged by the educational institution for communicating or copying a short excerpt from a work must be intended to cover only the costs of the institution, including overhead costs.