Acquiring Permissions

Navigating copyright permissions

Learning to navigate the landscape that is copyright permissions is often perceived as a confusing endeavour.  It's important to remember though that not all education related uses require permission.  Your assessment of whether or not you need to acquire that permission should follow a four-step process.  Asking yourself the following questions will greatly help you in determining whether or not you'll require permission.

Determining if your intended use falls under one of the above scenarios can potentially lead to a decision that permission is not required.

Copyright Protection

In Canada, the Copyright Act states that copyright exists "in every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work" unfortunately the Act does not define what "original" means.  That interpretation has fallen to the Courts.  In Canada, it is generally thought that to qualify as "original" a work must consist of more than a trivial mechanical effort, must be original to its author and not be merely a copy of another work.

Public Domain

Copyright in Canada is covered by a limited term of 70 years beyond the life of the author.  After that period works enter the public domain and are free from the restrictions of copyright.  You are free to copy, use or adapt as you see fit. For a more detailed exploration of the public domain, see our page on the Public Domain.

Creative Commons Canada has prepared a Canadian Public Domain Flowchart for those seeking a more detailed analysis of any given public domain assessment.

A note on substantiality

Under current copyright law the copying of a substantial portion of a work is covered by copyright.  An insubstantial amount is always available to use with permission without fear of copyright infringement.  There is no definition within the Copyright Act of what constitutes substantial or insubstantial. It's a judgement call that takes into account both quantity and quality. Commonly thought of examples of insubstantial uses include quotations from a work, a table, graph or figure or short clips from an audiovisual work.

A fair dealing analysis should always be undertaken if you're unsure if your use will qualify. Click here for a selection of fair dealing analysis tools.

Is the Work Already Licensed?

There are a number of different examples of separately licensed works and their uses.  Some of the examples include Library licensed, Governmental Works, Open Access and Creative Commons.

The Dalhousie Libraries have negotiated individual license agreements with the vendors and publishers of electronic products on behalf of the Dalhousie community. The terms of these agreements vary, so it is important to check what uses are permitted.

Alternatively, search for reproduction rights by publisher or source by visiting the Dalhousie Licensing Information page.

Please note that the Libraries’ licenses or other publisher agreements into which the university has entered will trump the Fair Dealing Guidelines. For example, an e-journal license may specify that adding an article to a learning management system is prohibited but inclusion in a coursepack is permitted.

Additionally there are a number of other types of resources that offer their own specific terms of use, copying and communication.  Some examples of these resources include Government Works, Creative Commons and Open Access licensed works.

Governmental Works

Works of the Government of Canada are now available to be used without permission if the use is non-commercial.

Some provinces do not allow the copying and/or communication of statutes, regulations but most do.  Be sure to confirm the practice of the province in question.

United States
Works of the United States government as well as governmental agencies are placed in the public domain and are free to be used.

Creative Commons Materials

Creative Commons licenses often provide some rights to use a work without permission.  Be sure to check the details of the license to be sure it is in line with your intended use as some of the licenses can be more restrictive than others. 

Open Access Materials

Scholarly works available through open access sources, either journals or repositories, are free from copyright restrictions.

Fair Dealing

Please visit the Fair Dealing section of the Copyright Office website for information on fair dealing itself and to access the Dalhousie Fair Dealing guidelines.

Specific Exceptions in the Copyright Act

Canada's Copyright Act now contains a number of new provisions and exceptions for the use of materials without permission.  It is important to remember that these specific exceptions should only be considered for your use when you are unable to consider it to be covered under one of the three previous scenarios above.  These exceptions contain restrictions and conditions which, though limiting, can provide additional options.

The educational community has a number of exceptions at their disposal and the latest update to the Copyright Act included a number of new ones. These exceptions are: Uses of works in the classroom or in lessons for online students, Use of works available through the Internet, and an exception for non-commercial user generated content.

Contact the Dalhousie Copyright Office for more complete details surrounding the educational exceptions.

Permissions: A How-To

Copyright law in Canada protects a wide range of works. If you wish to reproduce a substantial part of a copyrighted work, you may only copy the work if the Copyright Act specifically allows you to do so, or if you have express permission from the copyright owner.  

If your use of a copyright-protected work isn't permitted by a licenced database (or something similar) or by one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act, you will need to ask for permission.

The first step in seeking permission to use a copyrighted work is to identify the copyright owner. Check for a copyright notice on the work (e.g., "Terms of Use" or "Legal Notices"). You may find that the copyright owner is represented by a collective agency, in which case you should deal with the collective directly.

When contacting a copyright owner to seek copyright permission, it is best to be as specific and detailed as you can.  The following information can greatly expedite the process:

  • Information on who you are, including contact information
  • An exact description of the item. This includes full publication/citation information and/or the URL for Internet materials
  • A description of the proposed use, including duration and form of distribution: Are you using the material in a presentation? Will the material be accessible widely or is there a limited distribution? Will the material be made available behind a password protected site, accessible only to those with access?
  • A statement on profit. Do you intend to sell or otherwise profit from the use?

It is always advisable to get permission in writing and be sure to keep a file record of the following:

  • Who gave the permission,
  • What was permitted,
  • The date
  • How to contact the person who gave permission.
Questions or comments?

We'd be happy to help out. Please send us your copyright questions and comments.

Dalhousie Libraries Copyright Office website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.