Copyright Qs & As: Digital Copyright Issues

10.1 Question: Do you need permission to provide a hyper link in a Web site to a page in another Web site?

Answer: There is no Canadian or U.S. case law that specifically answers this question. There have been out-of-court settlements which suggest that if you hyperlink to a home page, then permission is not necessary, and if you link to an internal page in a Web site then permission is necessary. As such, it is a risk management decision your enterprise must make, and the decision may vary depending on the type of site to which you are linking. (2008-1)

10.2 Question: Can a library scan an article from a journal that it has in print format in its collection?

Answer: Owning a print article does not mean that you own the copyright/reproduction rights in that article. If you want to digitize an article in your possession, you need to obtain permission from the rights holder of the article before digitizing it. If you are obtaining permission to digitize the article, you may at the same time, ask for additional permissions such as the right to post the article on your intranet or circulate it internally in PDF. (2009-2)

10.3 Question: Is it legal to add a watermark to a digital image that you legally acquired from a photographer?

Answer: This is likely not a violation of copyright. In an extreme case, a photographer or other copyright owner may claim that it violates their moral rights and harms their reputation — however unlikely too since the purpose of the watermark is to protect copyright. You can always ask the copyright owner before placing the watermark on the image. (2010-4)

10.4 Question: My organization purchased an electronic version of a journal article for purposes of research by one of our employees. May we store this electronic article on our Intranet or on the library’s server?

Answer: You should check the purchase order or license that accompanied the article. Were there certain rights and conditions placed on the article when you purchased it? What uses are permissible? If the PO or the license is silent on this issue, then you must obtain permission to use the article in any way in which it will be reproduced or distributed, other (presumably) than for the personal use of the researcher who ordered it. (2009-4)

10.5 Question: I have published an e-book and am distributing it for free, however, I do not want others to redistribute it without my permission. How can I do this?

Answer: One option is to use technology (some sort of digital rights management) to prevent redistribution of your electronic book. Another option is to have your readers sign a license agreement that they will not further distribute the book. Another option is to have copyright information/notices in your book to educate and warn others that any copying or sharing of it is not permitted without your consent. A combination of some of the above may work too. (2010-1)

10.6 Question: I am creating a digital paper collection of articles from personal computers in my office.  The collection will contain articles from the internet, articles from licensed databases and digitized articles.  Do I need permission to create a SharePoint library with all of these articles?

Answer:  You need to examine each article or perhaps set of articles on its own. The articles from the internet – are they in the public domain? If not, do the websites state that they may be used for free or just for personal or noncommercial purposes? The licensed articles – what does your license agreement state? Are you allowed to accumulate individual articles or just use individual articles for specific purposes?  For the digitized articles, did you obtain permission to digitize the articles?  If so, does this permission extend to collecting the paper in a digital library? (2011-4)


  1. Julie says:

    Hi Lesley,
    The libraries are just buying these combo packs from places like Walmart, and Amazon, so there is no purchase agreement as there would be if they got them from a vendor such as B&T.
    Copying of the artwork, I already had my suspicions that this would be a no go.

  2. Lesley says:

    Hi Jen, you raise several issues. Is this an illegal copy of a book? Do you really want to quote from it if it is in your thesis? Is it exactly the same as the original book? You may want to look at the copyright policies of your institution.

  3. Lesley says:

    Hi Candice, you can review the fair use principles from the U.S. Copyright Act. Generally you need permission however you should apply your fact situation to the fair use factors and see if you still think you need permission.

  4. Lesley says:

    Hi Julie, what does your purchase agreement say about splitting up the items? Is this permissible by the agreement? Copying artwork would require permission from the owner of the artwork.

  5. Jen says:

    (Sorry for the double comment, but the other one had a typo error. I didn’t mean college, I meant colleague.)

    I have this e-book that I got from my colleague to quote in my thesis. He didn’t paid for the book, he found it somewhere online, but that e-book isn’t free type kind, you need to paid for it.
    Can someone challenge the way I got the e-book because of all these license issues that occur with e-book providers?
    Thx 4 your help.

  6. Candice says:

    Can I scan in artistic cards (angel/oracle) and post them on my web site as a reference to my blog post? Is this illegal?

  7. Julie says:

    Hi Lesley,
    We have some libraries in Canada that are buying combo packs Bluray/DVD and then splitting the items up for double the circulation. Would this be considered as a copyright infringement as they are buying a combo pack item but are not distributing the item as it was initially packaged. Plus they are also copying the artwork for the item that they have split.

  8. Lesley says:

    Hi Chris, most DVDs come with a license. It may be as simple as wording on the DVD cover. Look at the cover, check out the website for copyright information, email or call the DVD producer. In general, you cannot post it without obtaining permission.

  9. Chris says:

    Hi Leslie –

    I work at an organization in the US. Our company purchased an instructional DVD, and to make it more easily accessible to employees (without losing/damaging the media), we’re interested in posting the content on a secure, internal-only website for playback. Can we do this without copyright infringement? Are there any limitations we should be aware of?

    Thanks –

  10. Lesley says:

    Hi Rosemary, there is no such thing as a “research” exception in Canadian copyright law. One of the purposes of fair dealing is research. I recommend you read further or obtain a consultation with a lawyer or copyright expert on fair dealing and how it may apply to your circumstances.

  11. Lesley says:

    Hi Jo, you can reference a song in a book without obtaining permission.

  12. Hi Lesley,

    No specific section that I know (I have no legal training). I am simply referring to the research (or perhaps criticism) exceptions. Can a scholarly journal always avail itself of those exceptions? or does a use in a scholarly journal have plausibly to support research or criticism? To take my most blatant example, I have an author who discusses an exchange on the _Daily Show_ and wishes to include an image of Jon Stewart, looking ironic, that apparently comes from that exchange. Would such an inclusion be covered by the research exception if the journal is a scholarly journal.


  13. Lesley says:

    Hi Rosemary, are you referring to a specific section of the Canadian Copyright Act? If so, which section?

  14. I am writing for Sheree Pell whose question you replied to. Thank you for your trouble, but there was a misunderstanding. Our question is, “Does the research exception apply to all instances of images excerpted from film and published in a scholarly journal, regardless of whether or not the presence of a given image supports the research activity of the reader?” For example, if an article summarizes the plot of an HBO show and inserts head-shots of several characters who are not mentioned in the summary or anywhere else and the style of photography, etc. is not at issue, does the research exception apply?

    Apologies for the confusion.

    Rosemary Clark-Beattie

  15. Jo says:

    Hi Lesley,

    Great blog,

    Do I need to get permission to refer to a tune of a song my book?
    I have just written a book where a character sings a song (my words) to a tune of a well known song. The song is not referenced (the song name is not mentioned) but the name of the band is mentioned.

    Please advise
    Many thanks

  16. Lesley says:

    Hi Sheree, I hate to throw this back at you, but what do you think? I assume you are referring to fair dealing since you mention the research and criticism purposes. Do you think if the images are not directly related to the article, free use should be allowed? This is a question of fact that only a judge could make in a court, and that each individual has to make based on their own particular situation. If it does fall within such a purpose, then you should apply the 6 fair dealing factors the Supreme Court of Canada has set out.

  17. Lesley says:

    Hi Richard, this is still not a fully settled issue re using hyperlinks. Certainly, using hyperlinks to direct someone to content is “less” of an infringement (if it is one at all) than reproducing the articles in whole. You’ll be on the safer side if you review the terms of use on the websites where the articles are and ensure that hyperlinks are not prohibited.

  18. Sheree Pell says:

    Dear Leslie Ellen Harris,
    I have a question about TV screen captures and copyright: I have an author of a journal article that wants to use head-shot screen captures from an HBO TV show in her article, but the images aren’t actually discussed in the article (only mentioned at time of insertion in the article). Are the images publishable within research or criticism exemptions?

    Thank you.

    University of Toronto Press
    Journals Division

  19. Lesley says:

    Hi Chong, you would need to apply the fair use factors – this is not a simple yes or no question. The US Copyright Office has helpful information on fair use.

  20. Richard says:

    Hi Lesley,

    My (new) job requires me to search for articles on the web that contain certain key words.. Once found I am supposed to post the hyperlinks on our intranet so our Directors can read the info.
    Do I need to have license agreements with suppliers of Canadian news sources (and in particular Canadian dailies) which allow for the redistribution of relevant new articles from copyright-protected news sources?
    This info will not be redistributed beyond this point .

  21. Chong Boon says:

    Hi, I am an I.T. trainer for Senior Citizens and would like to produce short video clips (including screen captures) to show my students how, for example to create a gmail account, open a facebook account etc. Do I need any special permission to do video/ screen captures onto a CD/ DVD?

  22. Lesley says:

    Hi Robin, all fair dealing questions are decided on a case by case basis. So you would have to see if your use fell within one of the fair dealing purposes, then apply the 6 prong test of fairness under Canadian fair dealing. Only you (or a court!) could make that determination.

  23. Robin says:

    Hi, are GIFs copyright protected? They are very short video clips played on repeat. The ones in questions are taken from Tumblr and GIFsoup. We wanted to post some on our teen blog to add some humor. Would this fall under fair dealing? (coming from Canada). Thanks!

  24. Lesley says:

    Hi Barb, what content is in that podcast? Is it written content that is already protected by copyright? Is the podcast the first fixation of the work? Copyright is automatic in the US upon fixation of a work. Note that just because your content and/or podcasts are protected by copyright doesn’t mean that others won’t use them without permission. You may want to limit access or use some sort of DRM to protect them.

  25. Barb Ingrassia says:

    Hi Lesley,
    How can content in podcasts be protected? Our students want to have course lectures available as podcasts. Presently, lectures are recorded and available on Blackboard where access is limited by password to students enrolled in the course.(Also, faculty can “opt out” of being recorded.) Those lectures can’t be downloaded, forwarded, etc. Podcasts seem to be more “portable,” and there is concern that they will be more easliy shared and shared and…
    Certainly many schools are using podcasts.
    What thoughts can you share on how we might investigate this further? Thanks! B

  26. Lesley says:

    Hi Wayne, a scanned image is not necessarily protected by copyright. However, anyone may place a watermark on a scanned image and try to protect it as its own. If you are seeking a public domain work, best to go to the original work to make sure that you are using the original work and not an adaptation of it. FYI, there could be a new copyright in an adapted public domain work – copyright would protect any new parts of it.

  27. wayne hammond says:

    I am working on a document from 1909 which has numerous illustrations. The work is in the public domain and one of the images is missing. Since there are several organizations scanning these old documents and making them available for publication, I did a sarch for the missing image and only found one which has been watermarked. Is it legal to take an image from the public domain and claim it as your own?

  28. Lesley says:

    Hi Joon, you need to read through s. 108 and look at all of the specific conditions within that clause to see what comes under it. Professor Kenneth Crews has some helpful and practical information to help guide you through the section. See

  29. Lesley says:

    Hi A Latorre – in the U.S. there are no special provisions for unlocatable copyright owners. If you cannot locate the owner, then you may not use the work. Stay tuned for more information on orphan works which is an area the U.S. has been examining with a light to enacting specific legislation.

  30. A Latorre says:

    Im about to epublish a short story with a photo I found online and photoshopped for a cover. The photo is of the twin towers and I was able to find the name of the photographer but can’t find email or info on how to reach her to get permission. She has a copyright symbol but when I checked library of congress and copyright office I found no registration; what else can I do to protect myself from a cease and desist order?
    A Latorre

  31. Joon says:

    Hello Lesley. Can a research library in a non-profit organization digitize a print book/article in the collection based on “Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Reproduction by Libraries and Archives” (17 USC Section 108, and specifically subsection (h))? Also, can the library allow users to access/view the scanned item instead of the print copy within the library?

  32. BethCassity says:

    I am using 4 images from an e-version of a book dating back to 1887 on my personal genealogy site and also attached it to my tree at one of the subscription services. I have properly sited the source on my pages. Several people have link to these images. Wikipedia is using an altered version of the same images for these folks. Is this ‘fair use’? Would I be better protected if I got a physical book and copied the images from there?

  33. Lesley says:

    Hi Kaushik, you want to be sure that the free books are being legally posted on the public sites – not everything is as it appears! As for uploading onto your corporate intranet, you also want to check with your internal policies on uploading and copyright issues.

  34. Kaushik says:

    hi this is Kaushik from India. During my day to day internet browsing, I am downloading so many free e-books on various subjects from public sites like 4shared. Now for the reference purpose if I want to upload these books on our corporate intranet, am I allowed to do that as per copy right act? is it not fair use, as i am publishig the publicly published documents!?

  35. Lesley says:

    Hi Emilyo, if you locate clips streaming from a website, check the terms of use in that website as to whether your intended use is permitted.

  36. emilyo says:

    I am wondering about the copyright issues surrounding online video clips and their use in presentations. I work for a teachers’ union, and the organization’s AGM is coming up. One of the presenters wants to use clips from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and an MSNBC new segment during her presentation – the former is available on the Comedy Network’s website, and the latter was found on a blog (I can’t track it down on the MSNBC website). Are we allowed to show the clips at the AGM if they are streaming from the websites? Thanks for your help.

  37. Lesley says:

    Hi Remi, you should read up on copyright law as well as industrial design protection through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

  38. Remi says:

    I create custom wallpapers for cell phones that I would like to sell online, but I don’t have them copyrighted yet. I live in Canada. Can you suggest a way for me to make sure my wallpapers are not redistributed?

  39. Lesley says:

    Hi Carol, to determine the copyright status of the CD, check for any copyright notices on the CD itself or its packaging. If copyright information is missing, contact the state Dept. of Education to determine that. I am not certain how you link to a CD, however if you reproduce the CD in any manner, you may need permission from the copyright owner to do so (ie, check the copyright notices on the CD etc.)

  40. Carol Knicker says:

    I am teaching an on-line course for a state university. I have a CD addressing Universal Design for students which was created by the state Department of Education and distributed for free. I would like to insert a link to the CD from my course page. Do I need to obtain permission from the Department of education to do that? Thanks, Carol

  41. says:

    Hi Alex, assuming you live in the U.S., U.S. copyright law will protect any portions which are not in the public domain. The duration is life plus 70 of the author of the works. Although the law may protect such works, once the works are placed on the Internet, it is hard to know who is using those works. You may choose to post low resolutions copies, partial works, copies with watermarks and other technology that can be used to track protected works. Note also, that once on the Internet, the use of those works may be subject to the laws in the countries where the works are used and not just in the U.S.

  42. Alex Franke says:

    Hello! Great blog!

    I have some 90-year-old German family postcards. On the front are images that I understand are now out of copyright (due to age), and on the back is the handwriting of an ancestor. I want to make them available online (front & back together) as a research resource, but I want to be able to control the distribution of the images. (e.g. I don't want people to just take all the images and create their own library because I've spent a lot of time scanning/organizing these and I want them viewed on the site and in the format that I specify.)

    They have never been "published" digitally before, nor have they been made available as a collection before.

    Will US copyright law protect me here?

  43. says:

    Hi Learning, interesting question. First issue is whether you may share the original PDF with others in your organization. Has a derivative work been made? Doesn't sound like the original was changed, there are just some new sections. So perhaps the new sections have copyright protection on their own, separate from the original article. Of course an issue like this could only be decided by a court — I'm just throwing out some thoughts!

  44. Learning says:

    I am hoping that you can answer a copyright question that I have been trying to answer for the last few weeks. I need to know if copyright infringement occurs if an employee either highlights or adds textbox comments using Adobe Acrobat tools on journal article provided by a journal publisher as a PDF. The scenario is that an employee reads a PDF journal article, sees something of interest, adds a comment [by selecting "Sticky" Note from Comment & Markup menu and writing a short comment] OR highlights text [by using the highlighter from Comment & Markup menu], and then saves the PDF journal article. This PDF would them be sent to another employee or employees within the company. The original PDF is covered under our CCC agreement. So, I know if is OK to share the original PDF within the company. I think the real question is if a derivative work has actually been made. Any advice you can give on this copyright question will be most appreciated.

  45. says:

    Hi Gabriel, every country's laws would be different on this issue. Check your country's laws to see whether schools of any nature or perhaps their libraries may change the format of a work without obtaining copyright permission. Sometimes this may only be possible if the earlier format is difficult to read or a commercial copy in the new format is not easily available at a reasonable price.

  46. Gabriel says:

    I work in a k-12 school library and we own lots of VHS. As we're transitioning in our use of technology, is it acceptable to make DVD copies available for teachers, or would I need to seek out individual licenses to make such copies? Are there legal options for making such copies?

  47. says:

    Hi Jenifer, copyright duration in the US is very complicated because of statutory changes to the duration of copyright over the years. You may want to review the copyright rules and ensure that the work you are using are in fact in the pubic domain. If they are in the public domain, all rights have ceased in terms of copyright and you may reproduce the work in any manner.

  48. Jenifer says:

    Hello Lesley. I have read that anything printed 1923 & prior is considered public domain. Can images that were published prior to 1923, be scanned, digitally altered (as in colors improved, smudges and artifacts removed, etc) and then made available/sold as a digital image to artists for use in their own work? Thank you! JN

  49. says:

    Hi Nicole, there are several music rights involved when putting music on a Web site. Have you spoken with the music-related collectives including SOCAN and CMRRA? A list of collectives is on the site of the Copyright Board of Canada. If this use is not covered by a collective, yes you would then have to directly obtain permission from the rights holder of the music.

  50. Nicole says:

    I am wondering of you could set me on the right path regarding this issue:

    A college audio website would like to use “music in production” on their site.  They want to create promos for their talk shows by using ‘voice overs’ on faded down music.  I have checked with the Canadian collectives protecting copyright for print works and musical works and neither of them have a tariff for this.  Does that mean the employees of this audio website will have to chase the copyright permission directly from the creator?

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