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Copyright Information: Basics FAQ

Who at MRU does copyright apply to?

Everybody. Students, faculty, management and staff must all comply with the Copyright Act and MRU's Use of Copyright Materials Policy (POL #1610).  Copyright compliance is a best practice and an aspect of academic professionalism and integrity.

What is copyright?  What rights does a copyright owner have?

When any person creates an original "work"the law of copyright automatically governs who has the right to produce, copy, perform, publish, adapt, translate or telecommunicate that work.

The term "work" means

  • any literary, artistic, dramatic and musical work,
  • a computer program,
  • a translation of a work,
  • a compilation of others' works,
  • a recording of any kind, and
  • a performance of a work.

Generally (but not always), the author of the work is the copyright owner - and that person is said to hold or own the copyright in the work. In other words, they have the right to control if and how the work will be produced, copied, performed, translated, adapted, etc. These are often referred to as "owner rights".

The rights of the copyright owner, however, are subject to certain "user rights", which permit members of the general public to copy, perform, etc. works in certain limited circumstances, without the copyright owner's knowledge or permission. 

The Copyright Act seeks to strike a balance between "owner rights" and "user rights".

Where does copyright come from?

The Canadian Copyright Act and Canadian court decisions create and govern copyright in Canada.  Canada is also a party to various international copyright treaties, which have been implemented by the Copyright Act, and which influence court decisions.

How can I tell who the copyright owner is?  Is the owner of the work the same as the copyright owner?

Generally, the copyright owner of a work is the creator (the creator of a work is referred to as the author of that work).  The author is the first owner of the copyright, except in the situation where the author has created the work in the course of his or her employment, in which case, the first owner is their employer, unless the owner has agreed otherwise.

However, the circumstances in which a work is created may change or affect copyright ownership.  For example, an employer is typically the owner of copyright created by an employee (subject to any valid contract that may state otherwise).  Commissioned works may be owned by the creator or the person commissioning the work, depending on the year of creation.  It is also possible for more than one person to own copyright in a work, or for the copyright to be owned by a company.  

Note that valid contracts may change any presumptions of copyright ownership under law.

Circumstances to watch out for include:

  • contracts
  • work created by employees
  • commissioned works 
  • company ownership
  • multiple authors (hence multiple copyright holders)

If you are not sure who owns copyright in a work you wish to use, please contact the MRU Copyright Advisor at

What does copyright apply to?

Copyright applies to original work in a fixed form (e.g. written down on paper, saved on a computer, recorded, videotaped, or painted on canvas) except for a sound recording, performer's performance or communication signal (which may be transmitted instead of fixed). The work does not have to be in its final form - copyright applies to drafts, too!

Copyright applies to a wide range of works, from published and unpublished books, articles, photographs, charts, manuals and graphs, to CDs, DVDs, software, and the contents of databases and websites.

Copyright applies to all works created by faculty, staff and students in the course of their studies, research and employment at MRU.

How do I know if something is protected by copyright?

A work is protected by copyright automatically when created and, generally speaking, the protection continues for 50 years after the year of the author's death (subject to exceptions).

Under Canadian copyright law, the work does not need to be registered and the symbol  is not required to appear on the work. There need not even be any reference to copyright protection on the work itself.  It is possible, but not required, for a work to be registered under a voluntary government registration system such as the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).  Other countries have different laws and regulations which govern copyright protection but most countries offer similar protection in line with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties and conventions.

When you want to use a particular work, assume that the work is protected by copyright, unless there is a clear indication to the contrary or the work is clearly in the public domain. A good starting point is that copyright exists for the life of the author plus 50 years, subject to exceptions and qualifications.

Note: if the work is a translation or an annotated version of an original work, copyright in the translation and annotation lasts for the life of the translator/annotator, plus 50 years after their death.  

What does "copyrighted work" mean?

A "copyrighted" work" means a work for which the exclusive copyright has not expired and has not been waived.  It is at this point that the work enters the public domain (see below).  

However, note that works that are licensed (including many Creative Commons licenses) are still copyrighted.  So the works still have a copyright owner (who typically would like attribution), the time period has not lapsed, and, depending on the license used, the copyright ownership has not been waived. In such circumstances copyright ownership does not change (i.e. the "owner rights" stay the same); rather, the copyright owner has permitted certain uses of their work.

What is not covered by copyright?

Generally, facts and ideas are not subject to copyright.  For example, the laws of thermodynamics, the plot for a story, or an idea for a new line of research, are not copyrightable, but the text, story-board or research proposal that sets out your particular expression of those ideas, are subject to copyright. 

What is copyright infringement?

A person who does something with a copyrighted work that only the copyright owner is entitled to do, and does so without the permission of the copyright owner of that work, infringes the copyright of the owner.

Civil and criminal penalties can be imposed for copyright infringement.  Criminal sanctions can include fines and/or imprisonment and depend on the seriousness of the infringement.  Civil sanctions include an order to pay damages and an injunction to prevent continued infringement.

Criminal penalties are usually reserved for those engaged in piracy for profit.  Civil sanctions are the most common form of penalty for copyright infringement.

Liability for infringement may befall:

  • the person who performs the infringing act (e.g. makes an unauthorized copy of a book), and
  • the person who authorized the infringing act (e.g. if a patron asks a copy shop to make an unauthorized copy a book, the patron may be liable for authorizing the copy, and the copy shop may be liable for making the copy).

In certain circumstances, the University may be liable for the conduct of its employees.  Therefore, ensure you understand your rights and obligations under copyright law.  MRU's Fair Dealing Guidelines will assist you, and the MRU Copyright Advisor is available to answer your questions. 

What is Fair Dealing and how does it relate to copyright?

Click here for more information on the MRU Fair Dealing Guidelines and Fair Dealing in general.

Does Fair Dealing include teaching?

The fair dealing exception was expanded in November 2012 to include "education" as a permitted purpose.  Education includes teaching.

Also, in 2012 the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that teaching was contemplated within the "research or private study" fair dealing purposes.  In that case, the issue was the copying of short excerpts by teachers for class handouts.  The Court recognized that teachers "are there to facilitate the students' research and private study", that teachers cannot "be characterized as having the completely separate purpose of 'instruction'", and that the teachers' purpose in providing copies to students is "to enable the students to have the material they need for the purpose of studying."  The Court characterized teachers as sharing a "symbiotic purpose with the student/user who is engaging in research or private study."  On this basis, the Court decided that the fair dealing exception allows teachers to make copies of short excerpts of copyrighted works and distribute them to students as part of classroom instruction, without a prior request from a student, subject to appropriate conditions, which MRU has set out in its Fair Dealing Guidelines.

How long does copyright last?

Generally, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the author died.  However, there are some exceptions, particularly relating to photographs, and works created by employees, which can make it more difficult to determine when copyright expires. Contact the MRU Copyright Advisor at for assistance in determining the duration of copyright in a particular work.

Note: this also means that copyright is inheritable.  So just because the author is dead does not necessarily mean the term of copyright has expired.

What is "public domain"?  How do I know if something is in the "public domain"?

For more information on works in the public domain, click on the Public Domain section of this guide.

What are licenses for electronic resources?

Click here for more information on licenses for electronic resources.

How does copyright work internationally?

Almost every country in the world has signed onto various copyright treaties.  These treaties obligate the signatory countries to pass laws in their own jurisdiction that respect the copyright in works made in other signatory countries.  

While protections do exist, the treaties leave room for interpretation and therefore, each country's laws are slightly different, and offer different levels of protection.

If you're concerned about someone's use of your work in another country, you will need to check the particular country's copyright laws to confirm whether they are infringing your copyright.

Is copyright different in the US?

Yes, copyright laws in the US and Canada are different.  For example, the US has a doctrine known as "fair use" which is different from the Canadian "fair dealing".  Copyright is determined by the country of use - so even if you are an American, you should keep in mind that you are dealing with copyrighted materials in Canada, subject to Canadian copyright laws.  You cannot apply or rely on US laws.

How do I lawfully use someone else's work?

There are several ways to use a copyrighted work.

Depending on the specifics of your situation, your use may be permitted by the Copyright Act, without needing the copyright owner's prior permission.  Please refer to the faculty, student, and staff sections of this guide for more information.

If your use does not fall within the uses permitted by the Copyright Act and the file you wish to use is a digital file, then determine whether MRU has already secured permission on your behalf.  MRU has entered into hundreds of licenses that permit faculty, staff and students to access digital materials. For more information about MRU's digital licenses, click here.

If neither of the two options are available to you, it will be necessary to seek permission (also known as a "clearance").

The permission must come from the copyright owner(s), so the first step is to identify who the copyright owner is and whether there is an organization that represents the owner.  There are a number of copyright collectives that can give you permission (in the form of a license) on behalf of the copyright owner to use their work.  For example, if you want to use music and your use doesn't fall within any of the Copyright Act's exceptions, you can seek permission from copyright collectives.

However, if the copyright owner can be easily found, it can sometimes be easier to contact them directly. Look for the copyright symbol ©, which should have the copyright owner's name next to it.  You'll often find this at the beginning of a book, at the side of a photograph or at the bottom of a web page.  Once you've located the owner, simply email or write to the owner, explaining how and why you want to use the work and request permission.  If the permission is granted, we recommend that you keep a written copy of the permission and a record of who gave the permission, what was permitted, the date, and how to contact the person who gave permission. Such records are particularly helpful if other people wish to use the material in the future.

What are moral rights and what do they have to do with copyright?

Moral rights are in addition to copyright.  The author of a work and a performer have the right to the integrity of the work or performance. That author of a work or performance has the additional right, where reasonable in the circumstances, to be associated with the work as its author by name or under a pseudonym and the right to remain anonymous.

The right of integrity is the right not to have the work or performance

  • distorted, mutilated or otherwise modified, or
  • used in association with a product, service, cause or institution

in a way that is prejudicial ot the author's or performer's honour or reputation.  These rights are important for authors and performers to ensure they receive appropriate recognition for their work and for prohibiting any prejudicial changes to their works.

Are there special rules for scanning?

Maybe. Scanning a copyrighted work is subject to the same rules as photocopying a work or posting a work onto a learning management system.  If you are using an electronic resource or journal article located through an electronic database, then you are bound by the terms of the license agreement.  Similarly, you are bound by the terms of a website's terms of use, which may restriction electronic distribution of the material or posting to a learning management system.

Who do I talk to at MRU if I have a copyright question?

The MRU Copyright Advisor at or 403.440.6618.

Can somebody help me get copyright permission?

Yes. The MRU Copyright Advisor can obtain and track course-related copyright permissions and transactional licenses for faculty and instructors. The MRU Copyright Advisor also obtains copyright permissions for printed course packs. For other uses, you may obtain permission yourself by simply emailing or writing a letter to the copyright owner or asking the MRU Copyright Advisor at for assistance.

If the copyright owner agrees to our request, the permission to copy the work will generally come by way of a one-time license agreement between MRU and the copyright owner (also known as a transactional clearance).  There is no obligation for the copyright holder to provide consent and the copyright holder may require payment of a transactional license fee or decide not to provide consent. The MRU Copyright Advisor will work with you in the event that a transactional license fee is required.  MRU has allocated limited resources to assist with the payment of nominal fees and permissions, but, depending on the nature of the request and cost and transactional fee, the individual or educational department may be required to pay the fee.


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.