Frequently Asked Questions

You have questions, and we can help! If you don’t find what you are looking for below, don’t hesitate to contact us at copyright [at]

1. Copyright basics

2. Copyright in the classroom

3. Copyright in the library

4. McGill’s Copyright Infringement Notification System

5. Additional resources


1. Copyright basics

1.1 What are the laws and rules relating to copyright?

Use of copyright materials is generally covered by the Canadian Copyright Act. However, McGill University has entered into various agreements and licenses with copyright owners and representative organizations, including Copibec. The Copyright Act is the legislation in Canada that sets out what you can and can’t do with other people’s copyright materials. In addition to this, the University has special agreements with copyright owners, such as subscriptions to electronic journals, which give you additional rights to certain content.
In order to determine whether what you want to do is permissible, you need to check that you comply with any agreements or licenses covering the work in question and/or the Copyright Act. You should ask yourself:

  • Is the work in question covered by an agreement or licenses that the University library has with publishers or a public license such as a Creative Commons? If so, is what I want to do permissible under those agreements or licenses?
  • If not, is what I want to do covered by the Copyright Act, either under the educational exceptions or under the fair dealing exception?

If you’re not covered by any agreement or license or an exception under the Act, you’ll need to get permission for what you want to do from the copyright owner.

1.2 What does copyright cover?

Copyright protects literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works, as well as sound recordings, performances and communication signals. This encompasses a wide range of things, ranging from books, articles, posters, manuals and graphs, to CDs, DVDs, software, databases and websites.

1.3 How do I know if something is protected by copyright?

Copyright protection arises automatically when any one of the above types of works is created. How long copyright lasts depends on the country a work originates from and the country a user works in. In Canada, copyright generally lasted for the lifetime of the author, plus 50 years; however, at the end of 2022, the term after an author's death was extended to 70 years to align with current copyright terms in the United States and in many parts of Europe. This general rule can differ depending on factors such as the type of work, the manner of publication, and the date of creation/publication. Use of a work in Canada is governed by Canadian rules for the duration of copyright protection.

1.4 What rights does a copyright owner have?

Copyright gives the copyright owner a number of legal rights, such as the right to copy and translate a work and the right to communicate a work to the public by telecommunication. These rights are qualified by certain exceptions which balance the copyright owner’s interests with the public interest in allowing use of works for purposes such as education and research.

1.5 What is fair dealing and how does it relate to copyright?

Fair dealing is a user’s right in copyright law permitting use, or "dealing" with, a copyright-protected work without permission or payment of copyright royalties. The fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act allows you to use other people’s copyright material for the purpose of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody provided that what you do with the work is "fair". Whether something is "fair" will depend on the circumstances. Courts will normally consider factors such as:

  • the purpose of the dealing (Is it commercial or research/educational?)
  • the amount of the dealing (How much was copied?)
  • the character of the dealing (What was done with the work? Was it an isolated use or an ongoing, repetitive use? How widely was it distributed?)
  • alternatives to the dealing (Was the work necessary for the end result? Could the purpose have been achieved without using the work?)
  • the nature of the work (Is there a public interest in its dissemination? Was it previously unpublished?)
  • the effect of the dealing on the original work (Does the use compete with the market of the original work?)

It is not necessary that your use meet every one of these factors in order to be fair and no one factor is determinative by itself. In assessing whether your use is fair, a court would look at the factors as a whole to determine if, on balance, your use is fair.
If, having taken into account these considerations, the use can be characterized as "fair" and it was for the purpose of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody then it will fall within the fair dealing exception and will not require permission from the copyright owner. In addition, if your purpose is criticism, review, or news summary you must also mention the source and author of the work for it to be fair dealing.
Please note as well; it’s important to distinguish "fair dealing" from "fair use". The fair use exception in U.S. copyright law is NOT the equivalent of fair dealing in Canadian law. The wording of the two exceptions is different. It is important to make sure that you consider the Canadian law and aren’t relying on U.S. information.

1.6 Does fair dealing cover teaching?

Yes. While fair dealing doesn't specifically mention teaching it does mention education. The Supreme Court of Canada has also ruled that a teacher may make copies of short excerpts of copyright-protected works and distribute them to students as part of classroom instruction without prior request from the student under the fair dealing exception.

1.7 How long does copyright last?

How long copyright lasts depends on which country you are in. In Canada, copyright generally lasts for the life of the author, plus 50 years. N.B. As of December 30, 2022, the length of the copyright term for every literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic work in Canada was extended from 50 to 70 years past the year of death of the author; however, this change is not retroactive, so any works which had already entered the public domain remain in the public domain . By contrast, in the U.S. and Europe, copyright generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, though it can differ depending on factors such as the type of work, the manner of publication and the date of creation. Use of a work in Canada is governed by the Canadian rules for the duration of copyright protection.

1.8 What is meant by ‘the public domain’? How do I know if something is public domain?

The term "public domain" refers to works in which copyright has expired.
For example, although the copyright in Shakespeare's plays expired long ago, many of the published editions of his plays contain added original materials (such as footnotes, prefaces etc.) which are copyright protected because the authors have used skill and judgment in creating the new material. This creates a new copyright in the added original material, but not in the underlying text of the original work in which the copyright had expired.
And don't assume that everything you find on the internet is in the public domain just because it is publicly available. Most of the material you find online is protected by copyright, however, you may be able to use it for educational purposes because many uses will be covered by fair dealing or the exception for educational use of material publicly available through the Internet. See question 2.12 for further information about using material found on websites.
Note: Some copyright owners have made clear declarations that certain uses of their copyright works may be made without permission or payment. The Reproduction of Federal Law Order, for example, permits anyone, without charge or request for permission, to reproduce Canadian laws and decisions of federally-constituted courts and administrative tribunals in Canada

1.9 How does copyright work internationally?

Copyright is recognized internationally thanks to international conventions, so, generally, your copyright will be protected in other countries. But it is protected under that country’s laws so there may be some differences from the level of protection you would get in Canada. If you’re concerned about someone’s use of your work overseas, you will need to check the particular jurisdiction’s copyright laws to confirm whether they are infringing your copyright.

1.10 I’m from the United States. How is copyright different here?

In general, the copyright laws in the U.S. and Canada are different. For example, the U.S. has a provision known as "fair use" which is different from the Canadian equivalent ("fair dealing").
See the last paragraph in question 1.5.

1.11 How do I get permission to use someone else’s work?

You ask! If your use isn’t permitted by a license, or one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act, you will need to ask for permission. The permission must come from the copyright owner 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 who can give you permission (in the form of a license) on behalf of the copyright owner to use their work. So, for example, if you want to use music and your use doesn’t fall within any of the Copyright Act’s exceptions, or the library has not licensed it for that use, you may be able to obtain permission from copyright collectives such as the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) or Re:Sound that administer copyright in music.
If the copyright owner is easily identifiable and locatable, it can sometimes be easier to contact them directly as many copyright owners will give permission to academic users without requiring payment. Usually you’ll be able to identify the owner somewhere on the work by looking 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 webpage. Once you’ve located the owner, simply email or write to him/her, explaining how and why you want to use the work and requesting permission. The permission should be in writing. An email will suffice. It is not advisable to rely on verbal permission. You should also keep a file record of who gave the permission, what was permitted, the date, and how to contact the person who gave the permission.

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

Moral rights are additional rights held by authors of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. They consist of rights that protect the integrity of a work and the reputation of its author. The right of attribution is the right to always be identified as the author of a work or to remain anonymous. The right of integrity is the right not to have a work modified or associated with goods or services in a way that is prejudicial to the author’s reputation. These rights are important for authors to ensure they get appropriate recognition for their works and for prohibiting any prejudicial changes to their works.

1.13 Who owns the copyright in the works I create at McGill?

McGill University has a Policy on CopyrightUnder this policy, faculty and students will generally own the copyright to works they create through teaching and research. The University is automatically granted a non-exclusive, royalty-free, irrevocable, indivisible, and non-transferable license to use, for its own academic purposes, all works created by an author with University assistance, with University resources (equipment, facilities, etc), or in the course of academic duties or work in the course of study, research, and teaching. This license does not confer commercial rights, nor the right to reproduce published works (See Section 4.3). Copyright ownership can be affected by other agreements, such as research sponsored by a third party,  work created pursuant to a formal agreement with the University, wherein copyright is determined by specific terms of the agreement or if determined otherwise under the terms of a collective agreement. The copyright of work that is created in the course of, or as part of, administrative and support staff’s work or employment activities is generally owned by the University.

McGill also has a separate Policy on Inventions and Software.

1.14 Are there special rules for scanning?

If you want to scan something, you may do so only if the use falls within one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act, such as fair dealing, is covered by a license or where no permission is required, such as scanning a public domain work. If you want to scan a small section of a work that is still in copyright and add it to a website you need to be sure that the website is password protected, e.g. myCourses, and restricted to students enrolled in your course. For more information on this, see How to add readings to myCourses.  If what you want to do falls outside the exceptions and licenses and is not in the public domain, you will need to get the copyright owner’s permission.

2. Copyright in the classroom

2.1 Can I make copies of copyright-protected works to hand out to students in class? Can I include copies of another person’s images and materials in my slide presentations?

Yes. Under fair dealing you may make copies of another person’s works and hand them out to students enrolled in your course. Under fair dealing you may also include another person’s work, including images, in your slide presentations that you display to students enrolled in your course. In both cases, you must adhere to the amount that may be copied under fair dealing.

2.2 Can I post copies of copyright-protected works to myCourses? Can I email copies to students enrolled in my courses?

Yes, you can do both if you adhere to the amount that may be copied under fair dealing and/or our licenses, such as our current agreement with Copibec. For more information, see How to add readings to myCourses.
Note, however, that in some instances a copyright-protected work is made available under a digital license that prohibits certain uses such as posting an article to myCourses. Any such restrictions will take precedence over fair dealing. Consult copyright [at] about these restrictions.

2.3 Is there any difference between posting something on my own website versus posting something on myCourses?

Yes. Posting something on your own website means you are making the work available world-wide. Wide distribution tends towards the conclusion that the dealing is not “fair” and such uses may not be covered by any University licenses. By contrast, myCourses is a password protected, secure website accessible only by students enrolled in university courses. In some cases, posting material on myCourses will be covered by one of the University’s electronic subscriptions or licenses. The key thing to remember is just because you may post a copyright-protected work to myCourses doesn’t mean you have permission to post the work on your own personal website.

2.4 May I upload a PDF of a journal article I obtained through the library’s e-journals to myCourses for my students to read?

In some instances the journal article is made available under a license that prohibits posting to myCourses.  Consult a copyright.library [at] for information about such restrictions.
The licenses for some e-journals provided by the Library allow instructors to upload articles into secure course management systems such as McGill's myCourses. While there may be good reason to upload articles to myCourses, it is important to consider that doing so may mean that your students do not have the most recent version of the article. It is not unusual for publishers to make corrections or changes, such as adding supplementary material, to articles after initial publication. If such changes are made after a copy has been uploaded they will not be reflected in that copy. A direct link is the best way to ensure access to the most recent version of an article. Linking to the article also allows the Library to track use and obtain data about the importance of a particular journal to the campus.
Even in cases where uploading and linking to articles in myCourses is permitted by the licenses, it is important to remember that licenses generally do not permit you to upload to a website, or create links on a website, that is not part of the University’s secure network, and that is open to the world at large. None of the licenses that the Library has with publishers allows for uploading to, or linking from, websites that allow access without authentication.

2.5 May I scan a print journal article or a book chapter into a PDF and post it on myCourses?

Yes! For more information on the conditions for doing this, see How to add readings to myCourses. If you want to scan a copyright-protected work for inclusion on an open website, you will need to obtain permission from the rightsholder.

2.6 Can I play music in class?

Yes. The Copyright Act allows you to play a sound recording or live radio broadcasts in class as long as it is for educational purposes, not for profit, on University premises, before an audience consisting primarily of students. However, if you want to use music for non-educational purposes, for example, for background music at a conference or in an athletic facility, a license must be obtained from the copyright collectives the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) and Re:Sound.

2.7 Can I play videos in class?

You may play videos in class in the following circumstances:
You may show a film or other cinematographic work in the classroom as long as the work is not an infringing copy, the film or work was legally obtained, and you do not circumvent a digital lock to access the film or work.
If you want to show a television news program in the classroom, under the Copyright Act, educational institutions (or those acting under their authority) may copy television news programs or news commentaries and play them in class.
You may perform a work available through the Internet, e.g. YouTube, videos, except under the following circumstances:

  • The work is protected by digital locks preventing their performance
  • A clearly visible notice prohibiting educational use is posted on the website or on the work itself.
  • You have reason to believe that the work available on the internet is in violation of the copyright owner’s rights.

If you want to show a video in class and need assistance in obtaining video programming, please contact Media Resources for more information.

2.8 Can students include copyright materials in their assignments and presentations?

Generally, yes. Since fair dealing now includes education, students may include limited amounts of material in their assignments and presentations within the bounds of fair dealing.

2.9 Are there any databases of copyright materials that I can use for free without worrying about copyright?

Yes. There's a wealth of material out there which is either in the public domain or available under what is known as Creative Commons licensing, which generally means the work is available for free, subject to certain limited conditions, such as non-commercial use only and acknowledgment of the author.
For Creative Commons materials, visit the Creative Commons website for more information or check out their content directories which list audio, video, image and text materials available under Creative Commons licensing. For public domain material, simply search online for "public domain" and the type of material you’re interested in. Some useful sites include: Project Gutenberg (the largest collection of copyright-free books online) and Wikipedia, which has an entire page dedicated to public domain resources.
For other online materials, a recommended best practice is to check the website's Terms of Use", or "Legal Notices" section to confirm what conditions apply to use of the website's material. In many cases, you may be able to use the material for free for non-commercial and educational purposes.

2.10 Is it okay to use images or other material from the Internet for educational purposes?

It depends on what you want to do. Materials on the internet are treated the same under copyright law as any other copyright materials, so if you want to use them, they have to either fall within one of the Copyright Act's exceptions (such as fair dealing or the educational use of the Internet exception), or be open access or in the public domain.

For educational purposes, you may freely copy, play in class, or distribute to students, materials that you have found on the Internet, under the following conditions:

  1. The material was posted on the Internet legitimately – work available through the Internet may not be reproduced if it was made available without the consent of the copyright holder;
  2. It is publicly available (not via subscription) 
  3. It has no technological measures (digital locks) to limit access or copyring (e.g. encryption or password-protection)
  4. There is no clearly visible notice specifically prohibiting educational use
  5. You credit the source and creator

If what you want to use isn't from an open access or public domain source and does not fall into one of the Act's exceptions you will have to obtain permission from the copyright owner. You should check the website's "Terms of Use", or "Legal Notices" section to confirm what conditions apply to use of the website's material, including whether educational use is explicitly prohibited. Many websites will allow non-commercial educational use of their materials.

2.11 Do I need to ask permission to link to a website?

Content on the web is copyrighted in the same way as print and other formats, even if there is no copyright symbol or notice. Linking directly to the web page containing the content you wish to use is almost always permissible, although you need to make sure the content you are linking to is not in itself infringing copyright. In addition, if the web page does not clearly identify the website and content owner, you should also include the full details of the author, copyright owner and source of the materials by the link. This will avoid any suggestion that the website is your own material or that your website is somehow affiliated with the other site.
If you have reason to believe that the web site may contain content posted without the permission of the copyright owner, you should avoid linking to it. In addition, you must comply with web site statements indicating that permission is required before material is reproduced or that it may not be reproduced at all. Such statements are typically found in sections titled “terms of use” or something similar.

2.12 I gave a PowerPoint presentation in class which includes figures, charts, diagrams and other images from a textbook. Can I post it on myCourses? I’ll be sure to cite where the figures came from.

As long as you adhere to the amounts that may be copied under fair dealing and/or our Copibec license you may post charts and diagrams from textbooks, or other works, on myCourses. It’s important to note that if you wish to post such material to a website that website must be password protected or otherwise restricted to students enrolled in your course.
Please note that just because you acknowledge the author and source of a work doesn’t mean you won’t be liable for copyright infringement. Acknowledging the source is no defence if the way in which you’ve used the work is not permitted under the Copyright Act. So make sure you either fall within an exception or have the copyright owner’s permission.

3. Copyright in the library

3.1 Can I link to full-text resources that the Library has already paid for, such as e-journals and e-books?

Generally yes, though there are a few exceptions. Contact your liaison librarian for more information.

3.2 Can I scan articles or chapters and put them in myCourses for my class?

Yes. In many cases, works may be scanned and posted under the university's agreement with Copibec without further permission. However, we do ask that you report any scanned content you upload to myCourses. For more information see: How to add readings to myCourses. Where permission is required, this process can take from 1 to 8 weeks. Where there is a charge for a permission, the Library will usually be able to absorb the cost.

3.3 Are there any restrictions on posting an instructor’s notes on myCourses?

Instructors may post their own notes. In addition they may post notes that include copyright-protected material as long as they have the right under a license, fair dealing or another exception to include the material.

3.4 What are licenses for electronic resources?

The McGill Library has contracts with a variety of vendors and publishers that provide the campus with thousands of electronic resources (databases, e-journals, e-books, etc.) costing millions of dollars per year. Proper use of these resources is expected of all members of the McGill community.
In addition to paying for these resources, the Library negotiates license agreements that stipulate how and by whom a given resource may be used. Users must be currently registered faculty, students, or staff. Only these individuals will be registered with the proxy server for off-campus access. Access for the general public is made available through terminals within the Library.
If license terms are violated by anyone, licensors may temporarily suspend access for the entire university community. In cases where a resolution cannot be reached, the vendor may have the right to permanently revoke a license and access to the resource.
You can help prevent such problems by adhering to good practices and avoiding improper use.
Using e-resources
Usually OK:

  • making a limited number of print or electronic copies for your personal use
  • using materials for personal, instructional or research needs
  • sharing with McGill faculty, staff and students

Not OK:

  • systematic or substantial printing, copying or downloading (such as entire journal issues)
  • selling or re-distributing content, or providing access to someone outside of the university community, such as an employer
  • sharing with people other than registered McGill faculty, staff and students
  • posting actual content or articles to third party web sites or listservs
  • modifying or altering the contents of licensed resources in any way

Always acknowledge your source on any published or unpublished document when you use data found on electronic resources.
Grey areas: Some license agreements make express allowances for electronic reserves, course packs, multiple copies for classroom use and interlibrary lending. Other licenses may prohibit one or more of these activities. If you have questions about a particular resource, please contact copyright [at]

4. McGill’s Copyright Infringement Notification System

4.1 I have received a notification from McGill's Copyright Infringement Notification System - what should I do?

Please note there is nothing in the notice that proves the claim is justified. A judicial process would need to take place to justify the claim.  

You are not required to respond to an infringement notice, and you are advised not to click on any links within the notice without first consulting a lawyer. If you know the claim to be true, you should delete the copyright files and refrain from illegal acts in the future. No other action is required, unless a procedure in started by the claimant.  In the event that a procedure is started by the claimant, you are advised to consult a lawyer.

For more information, please consult: FAQs on McGill's Copyright Infringement Notification System

5. Additional resources

5.1 Canadian information

5.2 International resources


Some of this text is based on the Waterloo Copyright FAQ by University of Waterloo, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.

Please note: you should not consider the above information to be legal advice (the application of law to a specific set of circumstances). Contact a lawyer who specializes in copyright law if you want a professional opinion about how copyright law applies to your particular fact pattern.

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