Copyright Guidelines for Students and Users of the Library

Queen’s University is a Canadian research-intensive university with a transformative student learning experience. In order to aid in fulfilling this mandate, the Queen’s library makes print and electronic media available to Queen's students, faculty and staff, as well as alumni and local area residents and visitors, who are welcome to visit Queen’s libraries and use the facilities.

Due to the variety of copyrighted materials made available at Queen’s, all students, staff, and faculty at Queen’s and users of the Queen’s library system should familiarize themselves with the Copyright Act of Canada.

The Copyright Act of Canada governs the making of photocopies, scans or other reproductions of copyright material. Certain copying may be an infringement of copyright law. The university is not liable for any infringing copies made or communicated by students including copies made or communicated using copiers or scanners made available by the university, or for students who post infringing materials on Learning Management System sites.

This page provides general guidelines and resources on how the Copyright Act applies to the many of the common situations faced by users of copyrighted material at Queen’s (students, researchers, alumni, etc.). It is not a substitute for legal advice. If you have a specific question related to copyright that is not covered on this page, please contact the Copyright Advisory Office at

Copyright infringement & exemptions

It is an infringement of copyright to copy all or a substantial part of a copyright-protected work or to communicate all or a substantial part of a copyright-protected work to the public by telecommunication without the consent of the holder of the copyright, unless copying or communicating the work falls within an exemption from copyright infringement. One of the main exemptions is the fair dealing exemption. The university does not condone copyright infringement by students. Students who copy or communicate copyright-protected works should either obtain the permission of the copyright owner or be satisfied that copying or communicating the works falls within one of the exemptions in the Copyright Act.

What can you copy?

You have various rights that will allow you to copy materials without requesting permission. These include the rights outlined in the Copyright Act (the Act) and in the variety of licenses that the Queen’s library signs with publishers and database aggregators.

What is copyright?

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

Copyright protection is automatic when any one of the previsouly-listed types of works is created and generally continues for 70 years after the author’s death, although this can depend on the type of work. When you want to use a particular work in Canada, the safest approach is to assume that the work is protected by copyright, unless there’s a clear indication to the contrary or the author has been dead for at least 70 years.

Some materials can be copied with few or no restrictions. They include:

  • Material in which copyright does not subsist
    Copyright does not protect facts and ideas.
  • Material in the public domain
    Works in which the term of copyright has expired can be copied without permission or payment. This means the works of creators who have been dead for more than 50 years, no matter where they resided or published their work.
  • Insubstantial portions
    Copying an insubstantial amount of a work is not a violation of the Copyright Act and does not trigger the requirement of permission or payment. What will constitute a substantial part of a work is assessed from a quantitative and qualitative point of view. Regardless of the quantity of the work copied, if that part is distinctive, valuable or an essential part of the work, the copying will infringe the owner’s copyright. Examples of insubstantial use include selected sentences, paragraphs, verses or choruses from an article, book, poem or song.
  • Works with implicit or explicit consent to copy
    Material specifically presented for public use, including Open Access publications and works covered by Creative Commons Licenses, may typically be copied with minimal restrictions. When copying material posted on the Internet, a user should check what use rights the copyright owner permits.
  • Government works
    Many works created by the government can be reproduced for personal or public non-commercial purposes unless there is a specific indication to the contrary attached to the work. Specific terms for provincial works are available via Wikipedia.
  • Materials protected by digital locks
    A technical protection measure (TPM) is the formal term used in Canadian copyright legislation for a digital lock. A TPM is a software device aimed at ensuring authorized uses of a work, either by controlling access to the work or by controlling uses of the work, such as copying, distribution or performance. The Copyright Act prohibits the circumvention of TPMs, unless the circumvention is done with the permission of the copyright holder. This means that, even if you could copy the work under an exception in the Copyright Act like fair dealing, you cannot circumvent the digital lock to access the work without the permission of the copyright holder. Examples of materials that are protected by digital locks include ebooks, DVDs, and streaming video and audio.

User rights in the Copyright Act

Users also have rights when they are using and copying copyrighted materials. These rights appear as exceptions in the Act. These exceptions help ensure a balance between the exclusive rights of creators and the rights of users to be able to use copyrighted works for new, innovative, and socially beneficial purposes.

The most important of these exceptions is called fair dealing.

How does fair dealing work?

The fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act permits the copying or communication of a short excerpt from a copyright-protected work without the permission of the copyright holder and without infringing copyright. To qualify for fair dealing, a two-part test must be passed.

Part 1: The “dealing” must be for a purpose stated in the Copyright Act: research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire, or parody. Any fair dealing for the purpose of news reporting, criticism, or review must however mention the source and, if given in the source, the name of the author or creator of the work.

Part 2: the dealing must be “fair.” While copyright law in Canada does not include specific criteria for determining fairness, the CCH v. Law Society of Upper Canada Supreme Court decision set out a number of criteria that represent the most authoritative test available in Canada.

These criteria are:

  • The Purpose of the Dealing
  • The Character of the Dealing
  • The Amount of the Dealing
  • Alternatives to the Dealing
  • The Nature of the Work
  • The Effect of the Dealing on the Work

The university has adopted Fair Dealing Requirements (Appendix A of the Copyright Compliance and Adminsitration Policy). The policy provides guidance to faculty members, instructors, and staff members to communicate and reproduce short excerpts of copyright-protected works for specified purposes without infringing copyright. Although the Fair Dealing Requirements do not apply to students except to the extent that a student is an employee of the university (e.g., as a teaching assistant or instructor) students might look to the Fair Dealing Requirements to understand how the fair dealing exemption can be applied. 

The Fair Dealing Policy defines a short excerpt as follows:

  1. up to 10% of a copyright-protected work (including a literary work, musical score, sound recording, and an audiovisual work)
  2. one chapter from a book
  3. a single article from a periodical
  4. an entire artistic work (including a painting, print, photograph, diagram, drawing, map, chart, and plan) from a copyright-protected work containing other artistic works
  5. an entire newspaper article or page
  6. an entire single poem or musical score from a copyright-protected work containing other poems or musical scores
  7. an entire entry from an encyclopedia, annotated bibliography, dictionary or similar reference work

provided that in each case, no more of the work is copied than is required in order to achieve the allowable purpose.

To learn more about fair dealing and to do a fair dealing evaluation, try our fair dealing evaluator. Using this tool, you can learn how to apply these six criteria to determine “fairness” when dealing with copyrighted materials. You can also generate a time-stamped PDF for your records.

What other exceptions are listed in the Act?

While fair dealing is the most important exception in the Act, there are many others that may be relevant to students and researchers. They include the following:

Personal Exceptions

The non-commercial user generated content exception

Using this exception, an individual can “use an existing work or other subject-matter or copy of one, which has been published or otherwise made available to the public, in the creation of a new work.” This includes the dissemination by that individual and on third party sites like Youtube, Vimeo, etc.

This exception legalizes the creation of mash-ups and mix-tapes that drive many social media sites.

You can only use this exception if:

  • Your use is non-commercial
  • You are acting as an individual (not on behalf of a company or organization)
  • You name the source (if appropriate for the medium)
  • You create the mash-up using a non-infringing work (eg. not something downloaded from an illegal file sharing site);
  • Your mash-up does not have a substantial adverse effect on the market of the work and does not infringe on the moral rights of the creator
  • You do not circumvent a Digital Lock

If you were making a copy to be used for commercial purposes (eg. an advertisement) or on behalf of a company, you would have to get permission from a copyright holder.

Reproduction for private purposes

Using this exception, you can reproduce, for a private purpose, any work, in order to reproduce that work in a different format. For example, this exception would allow you to transfer music from a CD onto your computer, or record a television show using a PVR for later viewing.

This exception does not allow you to:

  • copy songs onto a CD (or any other audio recording medium)
  • give the reproduction away, or
  • keep the reproduction if the original version is given away, rented or sold

Fixing signals and recording programs for later listening/viewing

Using this exception, you can fix a communication signal or copy a work, sound recording or performance being broadcast for the purpose of privately viewing it at a later time, provided that the signal is received legally, the individual does not circumvent a digital lock in order to fix the signal or copy the work, only one recording is made and such recording is not given away. For example, this allows you to record a show on your PVR or other recording device to watch at a later time.

Backup copies

Using this exception, you can make a backup copy of a work to protect against the original being lost, damaged or otherwise rendered unusable.

You can only use this exception if:

  • the original is legally obtained,
  • you does not circumvent a Digital Lock,
  • and the backup copy is not given away.

Educational exceptions

The Copyright Act also includes a wide variety of exceptions for educators. For a list of some of these exceptions and to find out how they apply to teaching at Queen’s, see our Copyright & Teaching at Queen's University page.

Copyright and teaching materials used in Queen’s courses

At Queen’s, instructors own the teaching-related intellectual property that they create. Examples of these types of materials include lecture notes, PowerPoint presentations, lab manuals, syllabi, and streamed lectures. If you are re-using these materials, it is important to ensure that your use falls within one of the “user rights” outlined on this page.

In most cases, uploading instructor created materials to sites like Course Hero would be copyright infringement unless you have created the materials yourself.

Library resources

When copying print materials, please review the guidelines listed on the posters situated near scanners and photocopiers.

When copying licensed materials available through the library, making a limited number of print or electronic copies for your personal use is usually OK. For more information on how you can use library resources, including information on Inter-Library Loan and on electronic resources, see the sections Copyright and Education and Copyright & Research on the Copyright and Fair Dealing page.

How can I find material that I can copy and use without worrying about copyright?

The Internet is filled with incredible resources for finding works that are either in the public domain or can be copied with minimal restrictions. For a short list of some of these sites, see our Resources for Finding Material You Can Use on the Internet page.

Illegal downloading

Downloading full movies, music, ebooks, and other forms of intellectual property without paying creators or rights-holders is illegal and unethical. This type of downloading, which represents a violation of our Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources Policy, can result in lawsuits.

Luckily, there are a wide variety of ways to get your music, movies and books in legal ways.

Get your intellectual property from legal sources

  1. Music
    Popular sites and apps available in Canada where you can find music and music videos include CBC Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music and Google Play Music. The library also subscribes to a number of databases which include streaming music – see our Music page for more information.
  2. Movies and TV Shows
    Some popular services for buying or watching movies and TV shows include Netflix, YouTube, and iTunes Movies. Learn more on our Video Collections page.
  3. Ebooks
    A large number of ebooks are available to students through the Queen’s University Library. For personal reading, try the Kingston Frontenac Public Library.

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