Copyright FAQs for authors and other creators

These FAQs answer questions about your rights as the author or creator of materials produced during your employment or education at SFU. Examples of creators other than authors include artists, composers, graphic designers and performers.

Some text derived from University of Waterloo (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) and University of Saskatchewan (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.5) copyright FAQs.

Copyright basics

See Copyright basics FAQs for information on how copyright works in Canada and at SFU and general information about the Canadian Copyright Act.

Copyright for authors & other creators

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP) protects the intangible or intellectual nature of a work and is the legal rights that result from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields. For example, copyright protects many types of works and only the copyright owner has the right to reproduce an entire work or a substantial part of it. Intellectual property (IP) includes:

  • Copyright
  • Patents (inventions)
  • Trade-marks (logos, words, symbols)
  • Industrial designs (“pretty” shapes or designs of useful items)
  • Confidential information and trade secrets (ideas, concepts, facts)
  • Integrated circuit topography (microchips)
Do I have to do anything to be protected by copyright?

No. Copyright in a work exists automatically when an original literary, artistic or dramatic work is created, or a performance, sound recording or broadcasting signal is created or published, so the owner is protected under copyright common law. Under Canadian copyright law, the work does not need to be registered and the symbol © is not required to appear on the work. There may not even be any reference to copyright protection. It is possible for the work to be registered under a voluntary government registration system, such as that of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). Registration with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office does not preclude or enhance protection. However, it is still a good idea to register your copyright and to indicate notice of copyright on your works.

Who owns copyright in the works I create at Simon Fraser University?

Generally, the creator of a work owns copyright in that work unless it has been assigned to another entity, such as a publisher or other person. However, if the work was created in the course of employment, the employer may own the copyright.  

SFU Policy R30.03 Intellectual Property Policy describes how the University manages the intellectual property rights of members of the university community who create works in a scholarly, professional or student capacity. Members include employees, students, post-doctoral fellows and research grant employees affiliated with the University and who use facilities, resources or funds administered by the University in the course of University-related research and other creative activities. 

Simon Fraser University faculty and non-faculty staff own copyright in their own scholarly works, including research and teaching materials. In some cases, an employee's contract may specify a different copyright ownership arrangement. Undergraduate students retain copyright in all works created during their course of study. Graduate students retain copyright in their own works (including theses) unless a research contract in support of the student’s work stipulates otherwise.

What rights does a copyright owner have?

Copyright owners have the sole legal right to:

  • produce or reproduce the work
  • perform the work in public
  • publish the work
  • translate the work
  • adapt the work to another format (e.g. novel to film, film to play)
  • record a literary, dramatic or musical work
  • broadcast the work
  • exhibit an artistic work
  • rent out a computer program, or a recording of a musical work
  • sell a work in the form of a tangible object (in certain circumstances)
  • authorize others to do any of these acts

A copyright owner can license any or all of these rights to another entity (individual or organization) temporarily, or assign them to another entity permanently.

These rights are qualified by certain exceptions which balance the copyright owner’s interests with the public interest in allowing use of works for purposes such as education and research, such as fair dealing.

What are my economic rights?

Economic rights are held by the owner of the copyright and include the right to produce, reproduce, present, communicate or publish the work, or to authorize others to do these things, depending on the type of work, and to benefit financially from the work. 

Economic rights can be licensed (temporarily) or assigned (permanently) to another entity.

What are moral rights and what do they have to do with copyright?

Separate from economic rights, the creator of a copyright protected work is also entitled to moral rights, which include the right of paternity (to claim authorship, remain anonymous or adopt a pseudonym); the right of integrity (to prevent distortion, modification or mutilation of a work); and the right of association (to control activities associated with a work). 

Even if a creator has assigned his or her copyright in a work to another entity, the creator would continue to hold the moral rights to the work. Moral rights can be waived or bequeathed but cannot be assigned (transferred).

What are Creative Commons licenses?

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has developed a suite of licenses that authors and other creators can apply to their works to permit sharing and distribution. Applying a Creative Commons (CC) license to your written, artistic, musical or multimedia work means that you retain ownership of copyright but you permit certain uses of your work without the user needing to contact you for permission each time. You also waive your moral rights, to the extent required for users to use your works according to the applied license. Please note that users of copyright protected works (including those under CC licenses) have certain rights in Canada’s Copyright Act; these rights will supersede the terms of a CC license where applicable.

You must be the copyright holder of the work and any other works contained within it (such as photographs, diagrams, articles, video clips, etc.), or have license or permission to include these works, in order to apply a CC license. Once you make your work available under a specific CC license, you cannot revoke or change the license associated with that specific work (though of course you may stop distributing the material).

There are six different CC licenses, each with various parameters and requirements, ranging from extremely open and permissive to slightly less so. All CC licenses will permit typical teaching uses such as displaying in the classroom, distributing to students or posting in Canvas. These licenses are described below.

by  CC BY (Attribution)

The most open of Creative Commons licenses, this option permits others to copy, distribute, adapt and otherwise use your work in any way without contacting your for permission. However, they are required to credit you in any use they make of your work.

by-sa  CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike)

This license permits others to copy, distribute, adapt and otherwise use your work in any way without contacting you for permission. However, they are required to credit you in any use they make of your work, and also to license any derivative work (e.g. an adapted version) under the same license.

by-nd  CC BY-ND (Attribution-NoDerivs [No Derivatives])

This license permits others to copy and distribute your work without contacting you for permission. However, they are required to credit you on the copies they make and they are not permitted to change your work in any way.

by-nc  CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial)

This license permits others to copy, distribute, adapt and otherwise use your work without contacting you for permission. However, they are required to credit you in any use they make of your work and they are not permitted to use the work for commercial purposes. Non-commercial purposes are defined by Creative Commons as those “not primarily intended or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation.”

by-nc-sa  CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)

This license permits others to copy, distribute, adapt and otherwise use your work without contacting you for permission. However, they must credit you in any use they make of the work; they are not permitted to use the work for commercial purposes; and they must license any derivative work (e.g. an adapted version) under the same license. Non-commercial purposes are defined by Creative Commons as those “not primarily intended or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation.”

by-nc-nd  CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs [No Derivatives])

This license permits others to copy and distribute your work without contacting you for permission. However, they must credit you on any copies they make; they are not permitted to use the work for commercial purposes; and they are not permitted to change your work in any way. Non-commercial purposes are defined by Creative Commons as those “not primarily intended or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation.”


What rights do I have to distribute or allow copies of works that I myself have created?

This depends on whether your works have been published and if so, the agreements that you signed with the publisher. If you retained copyright, you can copy, distribute, adapt, translate, republish and do all the other things protected by copyright. You can also give or withhold permission for others to do these things, at your discretion. If you signed copyright over to a publisher, then the publisher has the right to allow copies or uses to be made of the work, and you must request permission from the publisher to reproduce it. Sometimes publishers will grant some rights back to authors in their agreements; check your agreement or contact your publisher to see what rights you may have retained.

If you created the work as part of your employment (at SFU or another employer), your employer may own the rights. See Who owns copyright in the works I create at Simon Fraser University? for more information.

Are there any limits on the rights of copyright owners?

Yes. Copyright does expire and then works will become part of the public domain. Material in the public domain may be freely copied without permission or payment of royalties. There are also exceptions to the rights of copyright owners built into the Copyright Act, such as fair dealing. The fair dealing exception permits users, including students and researchers, to use copyright protected material in certain ways to pursue their studies and research activities.

What is "non-commercial user-generated content," and what can I do under this Copyright Act provision?

Under section 29.21 of Canada's Copyright Act, an individual may "use an existing work... or copy of one... in the creation of a new work or other subject-matter in which copyright subsists." This is colloquially known as the "mashup provision," as it was designed to allow things like recording a home video with music playing in the background, or creating a collage of photos or video clips, and uploading these resulting works online.

There are a number of conditions to this provision. First, the resulting new work must be created "solely for non-commercial purposes." This means you can't use this provision to create advertising or sell something. You must also cite the source, if it is "reasonable" to include this in your resulting work. You must be reasonably sure that the work you are using was not an infringing (illegal) copy of the original work (e.g. a pirated song or film). Finally, your resulting work must not negatively affect the market (i.e. serve as a substitute) for the original work.

For example, you might want to create a collage of photos and video clips of SFU events, with music in the background. This must not serve as an advertisement (whether for fundraising, to attract enrollment, or to sell anything relating to SFU or tickets to an event). You should attribute the creators of the photos, videos and music in your credits. Your photos, videos and music must come from legitimate sources. And your creation must be an original work, not a replacement for any of the original videos or music you have used.

SFU Archives is a great source for photos, footage and other material to work from.

What is fair dealing and how does it relate to copyright?

Fair dealing is a user’s right in copyright law permitting use of, or “dealing” with, a copyright protected work without permission or payment of copyright royalties. The fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act allows you to use other people’s copyright protected material for the purpose of research, private study, education, satire, parody, criticism, review or news reporting, provided that what you do with the work is ‘fair’. If your purpose is criticism, review or news reporting, you must also mention the source and author of the work for it to be fair dealing.

SFU has a Fair Dealing Policy which lays out how much you can copy for purposes of education, research and private study.

Whether something is ‘fair’ will depend on the circumstances. Courts will normally consider factors such as:

  • The purpose of the dealing (Is it commercial or research / educational?)
  • The character of the dealing (What was done with the work? Was it an isolated use or an ongoing, repetitive use? How widely was it distributed?)
  • The amount of the dealing (How much was copied?)
  • Alternatives to the dealing (Was the work necessary for the end result? Could a different work have been used instead?)
  • The nature of the work (Is there a public interest in its dissemination? Was it previously unpublished?)
  • The effect of the dealing on the original work (Does the use compete with the market of the original work?)

It is not necessary that your use satisfy every one of these factors in order to be fair, and no one factor is determinative by itself. In assessing whether your use is fair, a court would look at the factors as a whole to determine if, on balance, your use is fair.  

If, having taken into account these considerations, the use can be characterized as ‘fair’ and it was for the purpose of research, private study, education, satire, parody, criticism, review or news reporting, then it is likely to fall within the fair dealing exception and will not require permission from the copyright owner. In addition, if your purpose is criticism, review or news reporting you must also mention the source and author of the work. For further clarity and additional information about limits on the amount and nature of copying permitted under fair dealing in certain contexts, please see the Application of Fair Dealing under Policy R30.04. The application of these limits to teaching at SFU is outlined in the top section of the Copyright Infographic.

Please note as well; it is important to distinguish "fair dealing" from "fair use." The fair use exception in U.S. copyright law is NOT the equivalent of fair dealing in Canadian law. The wording of the two exceptions is different. It is important to make sure that you consider the Canadian law and are not relying on U.S. information, which has no jurisdiction in Canada.

How does copyright apply to data?

Data and factual information (e.g., rainfall or temperature measurements, mortality rates, population numbers, currency values, chemical structures, historical facts and dates, the number of Twitter followers someone has) are not protected by copyright. Additionally, simple and typical visualizations such as line graphs and tables, or the bar chart shown below, are often not creative enough to be eligible for copyright protection. These types of material may be able to be copied and used without permission.

Total precipitation over the last year (monthly data) for Vancouver

However, some types of research products that might be used in a similar way to data (e.g., photographs, audiovisual recordings, detailed diagrams and charts, collections of text mined from websites or publications) are most likely protected by copyright.

If you are using someone else's data in your teaching or research, you will need to consider its copyright status, and ensure that you have the right or permission to copy and share it. Remember that fair dealing and other rights may apply.

If you are generating or compiling data in your research, any copyright in these materials may belong to you, another member of your research team, or an external third party. If your data incorporates works created by others, you will need to consider the copyright status before sharing or making it public, unless your use of the work falls under fair dealing or a similar provision. If you are depositing to a research data repository, such as FRDR, you should ensure you have the right, or permission, from any copyright owners, to deposit copyright-protected material (more information about copyright considerations for data deposits can be found on this page).

Any questions about data and copyright can be directed the SFU Copyright Office at

Image credit: Chart generated at


How does copyright work internationally?

Copyright is recognized internationally thanks to international conventions. Generally, your copyright will be protected in other countries, but it is protected under that country’s laws so there may be some differences from the level of protection you would get in Canada. For example, the term (length) of copyright protection varies in different countries. If you’re concerned about someone’s use of your work overseas, you will need to check the particular jurisdiction’s copyright laws to confirm whether they are infringing your copyright. Similarly, if you are publishing internationally and your work contains the work of others, you must make sure you abide by the laws in the country your work will be published in.

Should I be worried about misuse of my thesis/dissertation once it's openly available in Summit?

You likely don't need to worry. In fact, your thesis or dissertation (and other scholarship) being openly available can increase readership and citation rates, among other benefits.

Here are some concerns you may have heard, and some evidence for why they are mostly unfounded.

Plagiarism: What if someone takes credit for my work?

The fact that your publicly-available thesis or dissertation might be copied also means that it is easy to find in order to compare texts and check for plagiarism. A work being openly available as soon as possible - and clearly dated and time-stamped - deters plagiarism by providing proof of the earlier appearance of one work compared to another similar work (see Suber 2012; Cirasella and Thistlethwaite 2017).

Predatory publishers: What if someone publishes my thesis in a questionable journal?

We have not encountered any data or anecdotal evidence to justify a concern about predatory publishers taking publicly-available theses or dissertations and publishing them without the author's consent. SFU grad students own copyright in their theses and dissertations; it would be an illegal act of copyright infringement for a publisher to publish one without the author's permission. If you have been contacted by a publisher about publishing your thesis or dissertation, the Library provides information and tools for assessing a publisher or journal.

Ability to publish: Will a publisher reject my manuscript because my dissertation is already available?

A number of surveys of publishers with offices in North America and the UK have found that only a small percentage of publishers across disciplines would outright reject a manuscript based on a thesis or dissertation (see Gilliam and Daoutis 2019; Ramirez et al 2013; Ramirez et al 2014). In most cases an article, chapter or book will be significantly reworked from the earlier version: Harvard University Press has said that "we expect that the final product will be so broadened, deepened, reconsidered, and restructured that the availability of the dissertation is irrelevant."

Still have concerns? Talk to your supervisor or contact the Digital Scholarship Librarians at


Is there anything I can do if I find my teaching materials posted on a tutoring website?

Instructors at SFU generally own copyright in their teaching materials such as lecture slides and notes, assignment instructions and exams (per SFU Policy R30.03 Intellectual Property Policy). No one can post these materials on a public website without your permission. (However, students own the copyright in their class notes and assignments and have the right to share these online.) As the copyright owner of your teaching materials, you can request that the website remove them; the SFU Copyright Office can make this request on your behalf.

Visit this page to learn more about this issue and steps you can take to reduce the likelihood that your materials will be posted online, and to submit a form requesting the Copyright Office's assistance in submitting a takedown request.


What is copyright infringement?

A person who does something with a copyright protected work that only the copyright owner is entitled to do, and does so without the permission of the copyright owner, infringes copyright and can be held liable. Either civil or criminal penalties can be imposed for copyright infringement. Criminal penalties can include fines and/or imprisonment and depend on the seriousness of the infringement. While criminal penalties are usually reserved for those engaged in piracy for profit, civil penalties, including an order to pay damages or an injunction to cease infringing, can be imposed for other types of infringement. Monetary damages could be awarded to the copyright owner for loss of income caused by the infringement or for other losses. Statutory damages for all infringements for all works involved are limited to $5,000 if the infringements are for a non-commercial purpose, or $20,000 for all infringements of each work involved when the infringements are for a commercial purpose. 

Generally, the person who actually infringes the rights of the copyright owner will be held liable for the infringement. In the absence of the fair dealing exception or a license, a student, staff member or faculty member who copies a copyright protected work (e.g., scans a book, photocopies an article) without permission will be held liable for that infringement. Staff sometimes copy materials at the request of others (e.g., a faculty member or a student). In that case, both the person who actually infringes copyright (the staff member) and the person who requested the staff member to so infringe (the faculty member or the student) can be held liable for the infringement. In addition, you may place liability on the University if as an employee you copy works in an infringing manner in the course of your employment. Employees are responsible for following all University policies.

In addition to potential liability, staff at the University Libraries, Archives, Bookstore, Centre for Educational Excellence, Communications and Marketing and Document Solutions have a professional responsibility to respect copyright law and may refuse to copy or print something if it is thought to be an infringement of copyright law.

What will happen if I don’t comply with the university’s copyright policies and licensing agreements?

Simon Fraser University's copyright policies align with the Government of Canada’s copyright legislation (Copyright Act) and outline the institution’s requirements of faculty, staff and students to comply with all legal requirements. 

Simon Fraser University is committed to compliance in all copyright matters. It is the responsibility of each individual to comply with copyright laws and respect copyright ownership and licensing. The use of copyright protected materials without proper consent may be actionable under both the Copyright Act and the Criminal Code. In addition to any actions that might be taken by any copyright owner or its licensing agent, the University will take any breaches of its copyright policy very seriously. In the case of employees, disciplinary procedures may be applied. In the case of students, disciplinary action for academic and/or non-academic misconduct may be applied.

Who in the University is responsible for ensuring that faculty, staff and students comply with the University’s copyright policy?

Everyone. Faculty, staff and students should always seek to comply with the Copyright Act as a best practice of academic professionalism. You are only permitted to make lawful copies of works, and use works in lawful ways. Failure to comply with the Copyright Act could lead to personal liability, as well as liability for the University. Ensure that you use copyright protected materials appropriately. Advise students and colleagues to use copyright protected materials appropriately. Contact the Copyright Officer if you have questions.

Copyright contacts

Who can I contact at SFU for help with locating and contacting copyright holders?

For help with locating and contacting authors, publishers or other copyright holders for materials you wish to include in your thesis or other work, contact the liaison librarian for your department. A template letter prepared by the Copyright Officer is available for you to modify and use when requesting permissions for works included in your thesis.

Who can I contact at SFU for more information about authors' rights when publishing?

For more information about authors' rights, copyright transfer agreements and negotiating with publishers, see the Scholarly Publishing & Open Access pages. Contact the Copyright Office with questions.

How can I get more information about copyright?

See the pages for Instructors, Staff, Students or Authors and other creators on the Copyright website for FAQs, links and resources.