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Copyright Information: Copyright: definition & scope

What is copyright?

Copyright is a type of intellectual property. It is the sole and exclusive right of a copyright owner to produce, reproduce, perform, publish, adapt, translate and telecommunicate a work, and to control the circumstances in which others may do any of these things. Copyright owners can do certain things with this right. It establishes economic and moral rights that enable creators to:

  • control the publication and reproduction of their works;
  • receive remuneration; and
  • protect the integrity of their works.

Copyright owners can transfer or sell the right to somebody else (so they are no longer the owners), or they could license the right (they stay the owners, but permit others to do certain things with the work), or they can keep it.  Copyright ownership and license agreements therefore play a big part in determining what we can do with it. 

Copyright protection exists as soon as a work is created.  It only applies to work that is both original and in fixed form. In Canada, there is no requirement that the work be registered or that the word "copyright" or the symbol © appear on the work. The work may be registered, if the creator desires, under a voluntary government registration system. Other countries may require registration and/or designations to be placed on the work to activate copyright protection.


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What does copyright apply to?

Copyright applies to a wide range of works, including (but not limited to):

  • books;
  • websites; 
  • paintings; 
  • computer programs; 
  • architectural designs; 
  • sculptures; 
  • photographs; 
  • diagrams;
  • sound recordings;
  • sheet music;
  • communication signals;
  • performer's performances
  • pamphlets;
  • musical works;
  • plans;
  • and maps.  

If you are not the copyright owner and are not licensed to use the work, then you may only copy the work if you have permission from the copyright holder or if your copying falls within one of the exceptions set out in the Copyright Act that allows for such copying. The Copyright Act allows such exceptions for certain users, such as universities and persons acting under the authority of a university.  These exceptions provide a balance between providing copyright owners with legal rights to control use of their works, and allowing users to access those works.


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Is the copyright holder the same as the author of a work?

No. The copyright holder may be the author of the work or may be the publisher, if the author has signed over copyright. In most cases, copyright of a published work is held by the publisher unless an author has exercised the option to retain some rights through an author’s addendum (e.g. from a publisher, or SPARC Canadian Author Addendum) or through other licensing arrangements such as Creative Commons

Photographs and artwork can be particularly tricky.  For example, the artist retains the copyright in a commissioned piece of artwork, subject to any contract that may be in place.  Copyright in photographs taken by employees in the course of duty belong to the employer, but usually photographers retain the copyright in their photos.  These are just a few examples of the copyright complexities surrounding photographs and artwork.  You are encouraged to contact the Copyright Advisor at if you have any questions.


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How long does copyright last?

In Canada, copyright protection generally applies to a work for the life of the creator, plus 50 years. After that, a work enters the public domain, although copyright protection may still apply to more recent editions, arrangements or adaptations of the work.

The terms of copyright protection apply differently in various countries. For instance, in Europe and the United States, copyright protection generally lasts for the life of the creator, plus 70 years.


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Content on this page has been copied and adapted from the "Copyright at UBC" website, created by the University of British Columbia under a CC BY 4.0 International License.

Have a copyright question?

If, after browsing this guide, you still have questions or require additional information please contact, or 403.440.6618.

Student drop-in office hours on the main floor of the RLLC will resume in September, 2019.