Copyright and Digital Media

Excerpts from Copyright Matters!

Table of Contents

  1. What is Copyright?
  2. What does "public domain" mean?
  3. What is an exception?
  4. Why is copyright important?
  5. Can teachers and students copy from the Internet?
  6. Are student-created works protected by copyright?
  7. Where can I get more information?

What is Copyright?

Copyright is the legal protection of literary, dramatic, artistic, and musical works, sound recordings, performances, and communications signals. Copyright provides creators with the legal right to be paid for - and to control the use of - their creations. Copyright also provides exceptions to the rights of creators for users, like educational institutions, who want access to material protected by copyright. A balance is achieved by providing creators with legal "rights" and then limiting those rights through "exceptions." Copyright protects only the way information is expressed, not the information itself. Copying ideas, facts, or information in your own words is not copyright infringement.

What does "public domain" mean?


A work in the public domain is free for everyone to use without asking for permission or paying royalties. The phrase "public domain" is a copyright term referring to works that belong to the public. Works can be in the public domain for a variety of reasons: because the term of copyright protection has expired; because the work was not eligible for copyright protection in the first place; or because the copyright owner has given the copyright in the work to the public. Any work that is protected by copyright can, in a figurative sense, be placed in the public domain. The owner must specifically license all or certain uses of the work. This is done by stating on the work what uses are permitted such as, for example, that the work may be reproduced, communicated, or performed for educational purposes without permission or payment.

What is an exception?


An exception in copyright law permits defined categories of users, such as educational institutions, to make certain uses of a work protected by copyright, without having to ask for permission and without having to pay a royalty. The Canadian Copyright Act contains some exceptions for educational institutions and persons acting under their authority. However, these exceptions are usually very limited in what they allow. The exceptions that apply to education are highlighted throughout the Copyright Matters! booklet.

Why is copyright important?


Just as you would want to protect anything that you own, creators want to protect the works that they have created. Without copyright protection, there would be little incentive to create new works, as there would be no guarantee that they would be paid for their use.

As students, we were all taught the value of original thinking and the importance of not plagiarizing the works of others. Since teachers use copyright materials as well as educate the copyright owners and users of tomorrow, they have a unique responsibility to set the right example. The works of others should not be used without their permission unless that use is within the exceptions provided in the law.

A first step is to look at the various resources you use - print materials, videos, and various forms of recording and performances - and ask the right questions. Do you have permission to copy all or part of these materials, adapt them for your own use, or use them in the public setting of a school classroom? Ask yourself how you can obtain the legal right to use these materials, so that your students have reasonable access to the resources needed for the learning process.

Can teachers and students copy from the Internet?


From a copyright point of view, you should be aware of the following four rules:

  1. Most material available on the Internet is protected by copyright. This includes text (e.g., postings to newsgroups, e-mail messages), images, photographs, music, video clips, and computer software.

Under the Copyright Act, reproduction and unauthorized use of a protected work are currently infringements. Therefore, reproduction of any work or a substantial part of any work on the Internet would infringe copyright unless you have the permission of the owner.

The appropriateness of the rules in copyright law is being questioned by many Internet users. Canada and other countries around the world are currently studying uses of copyright materials from the Internet. Many Internet users and service providers are asking for changes in copyright law that would allow defined uses of works on the Internet without infringing copyright. CMEC, CSBA, CTF, and others in the education community are active participants in this ongoing work.

  1. Copyright protects the way in which information is expressed. The information itself is not protected by copyright. Copying ideas, facts, or information in your own words is not copyright infringement.
  2. Where a work has been placed on the Internet with the message that it can be freely copied, there is an actual license to copy the work. Sometimes the terms of the license are subject to conditions. Common conditions are that the posting cannot be used for commercial purposes, must be circulated in its entirety, cannot be used out of context, and cannot be edited or reformatted. If you abide by the conditions, you may copy the work without infringing copyright.
  3. Any works protected by copyright that are on your school's Web site require copyright clearance, unless the school already owns the copyright in them. If the school does not own the copyright, permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. The permission must be in writing. A useful site to consult on such issues, written from the teacher's perspective, is (

Are student-created works protected by copyright?


Yes. Any original work created by a student - be it in the form of an essay, a video recording, or Web site - is protected by copyright. The only use that may be made of student-created works is that permitted by the Copyright Act. Thus, the further use of a student's work, such as its use in a school publication or teacher workshop, must be authorized by the student, the parent/guardian, and the principal.

Where can I get more information?


The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) site ( contains a complete transcript of the current CANCOPY agreement and other resources related to copyright in the schools. This site also contains links to the Web sites of every ministry or department of education.