Skip to Main Content

Research Guides

Submit and Publish Your Thesis

Copyright Fundamentals

What is copyright?


Copyright is a bundle of exclusive legal rights granted to creators of original artistic, literary, musical, and dramatic works. In Canada, copyright law is a creature of statute and is based on the Copyright Act, which was most recently amended by the Copyright Modernization Act in 2012. The purpose of copyright has been characterized as a balancing of the interests of creators and users of copyrighted works (Théberge v Galerie d'Art du Petit Champlain Inc [2002] 2 S.C.R. 336, 2002 SCC 34 ).

Copyright’s exclusive bundle of rights include the sole right to:

  • Produce, reproduce, and perform a work
  • Produce, reproduce, and perform any translation of a work
  • Reproduce, adapt and publicly present a work
  • Communicate the work to the public by telecommunication
  • & more

See Section 3 of the Copyright Act for the full list of exclusive rights that make up copyright in Canada.

Importantly for authors of theses, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to authorize others to do any of these things.

What does copyright protect?

For a work to be protected by copyright, it must be original and must have a fixed form, or "fixity."

"Copyright subsists in every original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic work - not in the ideas conveyed by those works, but in the expression of those ideas in physical form."

University of Toronto Copyright Copyright Basics and FAQ

There is no requirement that creators register their copyright in Canada - copyright protection subsists automatically upon a work's creation.

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when a substantial portion of a work is used without permission in such a way that this use impinges on one of an author’s exclusive rights. Permission is usually granted in the form of a license.

Permission in the form of a license can be obtained:

  • Directly from the creator or copyright owner
  • From a publisher representing the copyright owner
  • In the form of a Creative Commons or other open license
  • From a collective society or rights organization that represents publishers and authors

There are exceptions to copyright infringement which in some circumstances depending on the purpose of the use (and other factors) may allow copyright-protected works to be used without permission. These exceptions are sometimes called user’s rights. See more about how these may apply to your thesis below.


Academic Integrity and Copyright

Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement: Cousins not Siblings

They are related but distinct concepts:

  • A set of ethical norms (which can be disciplinary or cultural) vs. a legal framework
  • Plagiarism is using the work of another without citing its source
  • Copyright infringement is the engaging of one of a copyright holder's exclusive rights without permission, where your use is not protected by an exception like fair dealing

Plagiarism is possible even if you have or do not need permission to include something in your work. Likewise, copyright infringement is possible even if you attribute carefully.

Your discipline may have particular attribution and authorship norms that you might want to make sure you are familiar with. The best way to learn is to consult with your thesis advisor and colleagues.