The Internet is a powerful tool! When one of your students asks you a question, you enter a few keywords into a search engine. Three clicks later, you find an entertaining educational video that you can show to your entire class. Fast and effective, right?
Only one problem: you may be infringing copyright without realizing it!
Why? Content appearing on any medium or in digital format (“fixed in any material form”) is automatically protected by the Copyright Act. That fundamental principle of copyright law applies to the Internet as well. Just because the content is available to billions of people “for free” doesn’t mean you can do what you want with it.
However, Canadian teachers can take advantage of an exception in the Copyright Act (section 30.04). Before using Web content, here are the questions you need to ask.
Is the content officially in the public domain?
In general, copyright protection remains in effect for the author’s entire lifetime plus another 50 years after that. If all the creators involved in the material you want to use have been deceased for more than 50 years, the content is now considered to be in the public domain. That means it’s no longer covered by copyright. You’re allowed to use it any way you like.
Is the content covered by a licence issued to your educational institution?
Your educational institution may already have a licence issued by a copyright collective or by the copyright owners themselves. That licence gives you permission to use the copyrighted content under certain conditions.
For example, Quebec elementary and high schools as well as CEGEPs and universities are covered by Copibec licences that allow teaching personnel to reproduce thousands of works, including the online editions of newspapers and magazines published in paper format!
What if you want to use other types of content such as music and videos available online? Check to see if your institution has a licence from a copyright collective managing that type of content or from the copyright owners themselves.
What should you do if the content isn’t in the public domain or covered by a licence?
This is where you could use the exception included in the Copyright Act. Under that exception, teaching personnel in Canada can use online content without permission and without charge, but they have to respect certain conditions.
Are you in an educational institution and is the audience comprised mostly of students?
The exception applies only for educational purposes. No surprise here: the majority of your audience must be students. Another important condition is that the content must be used in an educational institution.
Did the content creators give their consent for online use?
The Internet is overflowing with content that’s been put online without the creators’ consent. Sometimes, the website administrator shares the content without realizing it’s illegal. Other times, the administrator is simply pirating the material. In either case, you can’t use that content. We recommend you rely on official sites instead.
Is the work protected by a digital lock?
To protect their content from illegal use, creators can set up digital locks that prevent online users from taking certain actions. Those technological protection measures, which are often referred to as Digital Rights Management (DRM), can block the print and copy/paste functions for example. Or the protection measure could be a watermark added to the work to prevent unauthorized use.
If the content is locked, there’s a reason for it! The administrator wants to limit your use or doesn’t want you to use the material without consent. That intention must be respected.
Is there a clear indication that reproduction is prohibited?
Under the exception in the Copyright Act, you’re not required to get permission from the site administrator or copyright owner. All you have to do is check whether the site prohibits reproduction. If there is a notice prohibiting reproduction, you need to obtain written authorization from the site administrator. If no such notice appears, you’re allowed to reproduce, display and communicate the content for your students free of charge.
Don’t forget to name your sources!
In every situation, you always have to indicate the bibliographic references. If no sources are shown on the website, that can be a definite sign when it comes to determining whether the site is legal and reliable.
Tips for respecting copyright
- Use creators’ official sites. Avoid third-party sites.
- If there is no official site, use the sites of institutions recognized as trustworthy such as public sector agencies, museums or major media outlets.
- Use SAMUEL, your digital content platform from Copibec. Over 30,000 documents. Zero risk of copyright infringement.
- Avoid sites or social media accounts if you can’t confirm the administrator’s identity.
- Do you suspect that the administrator did not request permission before publishing the content? If so, avoid using the site and, if possible, notify the copyright owner.
- Write to the administrator to ask if permission has been obtained to publish the content.
- The © symbol and the indication “All rights reserved” do not prohibit reproduction.