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What exceptions are there to copyright?

The Copyright Act includes a number of very specific and limited exceptions. For general purposes, the main exceptions are:


  • fair dealing;
  • education;
  • libraries, museums and archives;
  • private copying of music; and
  • back-up copies of computer software.

What I want to do seems fair. Is there some sort of exception?

There is an exception called the ‘fair dealing exception’ which allows you to use other people’s copyrighted works for the purpose of research, private study, criticism or review, provided that what you do with the work is ‘fair’. Whether something is ‘fair’ will depend on the circumstances. Note that copies made by instructors for teaching purposes are not currently considered to be fair dealing.

The University has adopted the Fair Dealing Policy recommended by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) as a guide to determine what may be legally copied under this Copy Act exception.  This policy reflects recent legal rulings on copyright issues in the educational sector, including the ruling that copies made for the purpose of instruction cannot be considered fair dealing.  For more information on this policy, contact the Library.

I’m an instructor. Am I covered by an education exception?

There is an educational exception but it is very limited and only covers the use of copyrighted works in class and exams. It allows instructors to do things such as make copies of diagrams to show in class and play music or live radio broadcasts in class, but these rights are subject to specific conditions and limitations. For example, they only cover in-class use on university premises. They do not extend to online classrooms. If you want to use copyright material in the classroom or online, and you’re unsure if what you want to do is permissible, you should contact the Library.

How much can I photocopy?

It depends on your purpose.  As of January 1, 2011, the University of Guelph no longer has a license with Access Copyright, a collective that licenses photocopying and print course packs for universities.  This means that the University must rely on exceptions in the Copyright Act when photocopying from copyrighted works without the permission of the copyright owner.  Both the fair dealing exception and the educational exception permit limited photocopying for specific purposes.

If you are photocopying for the purpose of research or private study you may under the fair dealing exception.  The Fair Dealing Policy that the University has adopted permits the copying of up to 10% of a published written work, or with following, whichever is greater:

  • an entire chapter from a book provided that it does not exceed 20 per cent of the book;
  • and entire article from a periodical publication;
  • an entire short story, play, poem, or essay from a book or periodical publication;
  • an entire entry from an encyclopedia, dictionary, annotated bibliography or similar reference book;
  • an entire reproduction of an of an artistic work from a book or periodical publication; and 
  • a single musical score from a book or periodical publication.

Please note that the Fair Dealing Policy outlines different limits and requirements for copies made from textbooks.

Photocopying for the purpose of teaching – Photocopying works to hand out to students is not covered under the fair dealing exception.  For more information about what can be copied for teaching purposes, consult the Library's Copyright Guide for Instructors.

What is meant by ‘the public domain’?

The public domain is the field of works in which copyright has expired or where the copyright owner has made a clear declaration that the work is not subject to copyright.

If something’s really old, isn’t it public domain?

Be careful about assuming that something is public domain.  For example, although the copyright in Shakespeare’s plays expired long ago, many of the published editions of his plays are still protected by copyright because the publishers have added original materials (such as footnotes, prefaces etc.) and have used skill and judgment in arranging the text.  This creates a new copyright in their edition.  Similarly, a Van Gogh painting will be out of copyright, but a photograph of a Van Gogh painting that you find on the Internet may be protected by copyright if it’s an original photograph that involved skill and judgment to create. In that case, the photograph itself may attract a new copyright.

Is information found on the Internet considered public domain?

You should not assume that everything you find on the Internet is public domain just because it is free to access.  Unless you see a clear declaration that the material is public domain, you should assume that it is protected by copyright.  You should check a website’s ‘Terms of Use’, or ‘Legal Notices’ sections to confirm what conditions apply to use of a website’s material.

Also see the 'Teaching & Students' and ‘Research & Online’ sections for more information on how copyright affects teaching and research activities.