Introduction to Copyright

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Copyright refers to the legal right of the owner/creator/producer of an original work to have full control of the distribution, reproduction, performance, or publication of that work.

Copyright is an important right that needs to be respected. It safeguards the rights and ownership of someone else’s work, protecting the integrity and dissemination of those works. This is especially important when you are thinking about which works to include in your own course.

At first, this might seem like an overwhelming landscape when choosing resources for your course and trying to determine what is or isn’t protected under copyright laws. But just know that you are not alone when navigating these scenarios. Your primary resource at St. Clair College will be Policy 4.7 Copyright Guidelines. Here you can find guidance on different permissions including what and how much you can freely copy for purposes of your course or other academic work. You can also reach out to the Library Resouce Centre or the CAE for specific questions that you may have.

St Clair College Copyright Guidelines exist to “provide guidance to administrators, contractors, faculty, staff, students and visitors concerning the expectation of the law with respect to copying, reproducing, or distributing any copyrighted material.” (St Clair College, 2020, Para. 1).

Quick Definitions

Other Helpful Resources


Faculty Frequently Asked Questions

Digital Copyright

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Generally speaking, there are no differences in how copyright law is applied to digital formats and online works compared to print (analog) works. What this means, however, is that extra care should be taken to ensure any online work you are using has been posted with permission from the owner of that work. For example, showing a YouTube video in your class is perfectly acceptable so long as the video posted is not in violation of any copyright laws (e.g., a full movie or music album recently posted may be in breach of the original copyright restrictions).

When deciding whether or not you can re-use online material, the following steps outline a systematic way of approaching a copyright situation (adapted from Our Digital World).

  1. Determine the category of the content to get an initial sense of the copyright rules. For example, both a multi-media item and the individual components of that item may be protected by copyright. For more information on the different categories (e.g., original works, compilations, sound recordings, etc.), click here.
  2. Determine who owns the copyright. This will inform you of the term rules and where to start the permission process, if necessary.
  3. Find out how long the copyright lasts. If the term limits have expired (e.g., life-plus-fifty rule in effect), you do not need to look any further.
  4. If the copyright has not expired, you need identify the owner (Step 2) and ask for permission to post/re-use their works.



This module was made possible with funding by the Government of Ontario and through eCampusOntario’s support of the Virtual Learning Strategy. To learn more about the Virtual Learning Strategy visit:


  • Victoria Levang, Library Technician.
  • Brian Nairn, Professor
  • Irene Stewart, Retention Coordinator
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike.

 This work is licensed Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial ShareAlike by St. Clair College, Centre for Academic Excellence and Quality Assurance unless otherwise noted.