Copyright Qs & As: Fair Use/Dealing and Limitations on Copyright

Limitations on copyright may mean an exception for a non-profit library in which the library may use specific copyright material in a specific way without asking permission or making a payment.

If you have questions about exceptions for libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions or others, please ask here. This may include questions about fair use or fair dealing.



  1. Lesley says:

    Hi Cathlyn, a great scenario for a longer discussion. Answer depends on where you live and what your country says about using copyright materials in online learning – and it may depend on whether you are a for- or nonprofit organization. If a provision exists for online teaching, it may be subject to specific conditions so read them carefully. In the U.S., an example of such a provision is in the TEACH Act which is part of the U.S. Copyright Act.

  2. Lesley says:

    Hi Mac, you can always put copyright materials into your own words and also summarize them. However, if you copy the words very close to the original text, you may need permission.

  3. Cathlyn says:

    I am teaching from a textbook on a closed circuit for homeschool students. Each student is required to but the textbook and testing materials. I am teaching each math lesson to be viewed on a video by demand, and then grading the students’ tests and emailing them back to them. I also tutor them online to help them with difficult math topics. Do I need to get permission from the publishers of the textbook if I require each student to buy their product in order to take the class?

    Thank you!

  4. Mac MacLeod says:

    Hi – I have a question about copywrited material that has been changed and then used in a performance. I am a voiceover artist who is also in University. I have found that speaking the information I need to learn helps me retain the knowledge.

    If I were to rewrite an academic text book by putting it into my own words, then voice it onto the internet, would that constitute fair use?

  5. Lesley says:

    Melissa, moral rights always belong to the creator/author of a work and are only transferrable upon death. However, creators may waive their moral rights and this is something that you’d have to investigate when you are investigating ownership of the economic/copyright rights.

  6. Melissa says:


    I have a question about fair dealing in Canada. I work at a cultural institution that holds several film-related archival collections. We often hold exhibitions that include these items and we do our best to acquire permissions from the copyright holders in advance. The question I have is about objects that are created during the production of a film (for example props or architectural set drawings). I thought that the moral rights holder would be the film production company that hired the artist to do the work. However after reading one of the items in your Myths about Canadian Copyright Law post I am not sure if that is correct:

    MYTH: Employers are considered the authors of the works produced by their employees.

    Works created in the course of employment during the course of an employee’s duties belong to the employer. However, the author/employee remains the author of the work. Duration of protection of the work is determined by the employee/author’s life, and the employee retains the moral rights in such works.

    Does this mean that years after the employee has been employed by the company that they retain the moral rights of the art work they produced? Or is it still held by the company that produced the film, or the company that holds the rights to the film?



  7. Lesley says:

    Hi Cindy, technically you need permission to reproduce a DVD cover however you should appy the fair use factors and see if you are comfortable using the covers without permission under fair use. Descriptions of new books are fine under copyright law as long as you do not reproduce the exact words in the word or a large portion of them.

  8. Cindy Muhlbach says:

    Can our library include DVD covers on our Facebook page to advertise our new DVD’s? Can we include descriptions of new books obtained from Amazon in an e-mail newsletter if we give credit to Amazon?
    Thanks for your help.

  9. Lesley says:

    Hi Kathy, many countries have provisions for using copyright-protected materials for those with disabilities. The provisions are specific and certain conditions apply. You will need to review the provisions in your country with your specific facts and see what may be eligible without obtaining permission. A related article by Laura Gassaway from 2003 is at

  10. kathy staugler says:

    I work for a company to develop curriculum materials for students with significant disabilities. We have a library of books we have written with graphic artists doing the illustrations. Subscribers to our program pay an annual fee to have access to materials and library. At this time, we would like to create some modified books of titles that are often read in schools by typically developing peers (e.g. charlotte’s Web, Romeo and Juliet, etc.) When writing these we would very likely not being using over 25% of the content, and it would be a simplified version. Illustrations would be done by our graphic art team. Is this possible? Do we need permission? thanks

  11. Lesley says:

    @Hugh Thurlow Hi Hugh, The TEACH Act permits the performance and display of copyright materials for distance education by accredited, non-profit educational institutions (and some government entities) that meet the Act’s qualifying requirements. If your use does not qualify for the TEACH Act, it is possible that it falls under another exception in the Copyright Act, including possibly under fair use.

  12. Lesley says:

    Hi David, there is no exception in the U.S. copyright law for use of content by inmates without obtaining permission. As any other user of content, you may want to do an analysis of fair use and see if you could your use as being fair use. Charging for copies may be a factor to take into account in your fair use analysis. Also, examine the copyright notices in the sites from where you are obtaining the lyrics; see what use is permitted without obtaining permission – perhaps your use is covered.

  13. Lesley says:

    Hi Diana, it is up to the copyright holder to set the fee and you may wish to discuss your uses and see if you can negotiate a lower fee. Also, see if you can obtain the article from another source. Perhaps it is already in an electronic database that you license; you may already have certain rights to use the article in specified ways.

  14. David says:


    I work at a public library in Pennsylvania. We receive a number of requests from inmates across the state asking for the lyrics to songs. Many of the songs are recent songs, often hip-hop or rap, and are not
    currently published in a songbook.

    A librarian or volunteer copies and pastes the lyrics from any number of sites (for example: and we mail them off. Based
    on conversations we have had with prison librarians, the inmates appear to be using them for their own entertainment.

    Some staff at our library have raised the issue that we may be violating copyright. Could you provide us with some guidance on that? Does it matter if we charge for copies? Thank you for your assistance.

  15. Diana Robertson says:

    Hi Lesley, we are a public health unit in Ontario and we would like to distribute copies of an article that we obtained through interlibrary loan for our journal club. There must be some way to do this, such as setting up a reserve file, etc. as we have tried to obtain copyright permission and have been told that it will cost us $2,000 for 10 copies.

  16. Judith Weiner Mills says:

    Is it “legal” if an academic library’s part time faculty member uses the library’s resources; downloads and shares its articles with her colleages at a private (for-profit) company where she also work? This particular academic library’s president did not wish to comment on the issue, however it is my understanding that her library had to sign a user license agreement with its content provider database vendor.

    Thank you!


  17. Lesley says:

    Hi Devon, when it comes to fair dealing in Canada, each case is decided according to its own particular situations. So, one cannot provide a general answer to such a question. Look at what you are doing and apply the fair dealing factors to see what determination you make. Also remember that creating your own summary of a work does not require copyright permission, as long as the summary is in your own words.

  18. Devon says:

    Is the abstract from a scholarly journal article considered to be a small portion of the entire article, or its own work? I ask because, on a (Canadian) website aimed a promoting a certain genre of academic research, we would like to include the abstract along with citation & link to the article, but only if this is generally considered to be fair dealing. Thanks.

  19. Lesley says:

    Hi Peggy, I think all high school teachers need a general understanding of copyright law both re the materials they use to teach, as well as ensuring that their students are complying with the law. The questions you ask go to basic copyright issues such as what is protected by copyright, for how long, anonymous authors, digital uses, and fair use — one good general site for copyright info is the U.S. Copyright Office.

  20. Peggy says:

    I have several reference copyright questions from a high school consumer and family studies teacher. She asked, “How much of a recipie can be used without making a citation? How
    do you know what is in the public domain? For instance, I have a recipie for apple pie that I have used for years. I have no idea where I got it, am I o.k. to put it on my web site? Isn’t apple pie pretty standard?”
    What guidance can you give me for this teacher? Thank you.

  21. Hugh Thurlow says:

    Hello Lesley, I wonder if you can help direct me to find information re: if the TEACH act can apply to a “profit” accredited educational institution. We are just beginning to teach online courses and want to show clips of films for an animation course. Do we need to seek permissions for each film clip we use?
    thanks for you time, Hugh Thurlow, Library Director, Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Lakewood, CO.

  22. Lesley says:

    Hi Nicole, each situation of using portions of a copyright-protected work must be examined on its own. You need to apply the fair dealing factors to the situation at hand and determine whether the quality and quantity, amongst other factors, of the portions used would fall under the fair dealing defense.

  23. Nicole says:

    A professor is wondering if posting answers on their course software site (password-protected, ie BlackBoard) from the class textbook infringes on copyright? What about distributing the answers/solutions in other ways?

  24. Lesley says:

    Doreen, this is a matter relating to your agreement. You need to review your agreement and see what it says re length of use and amendments to the agreement.

  25. Doreen Garrigus says:

    I have a question about textures, backgrounds, and images used for creating other works in a virtual environment—specifically Second Life and other OpenSim-based virtual worlds.

    At this time, creators of these textures typically include a written terms-of-use statement with purchased texture packs giving the end user the right to use the textures an unlimited number of times, with no specification of time or extent, without attribution, as parts of their own creations as long as they do not resell the textures unchanged.

    These are very broad terms of use and some texture creators have begun to backpedal a little. Does a copyright holder have the right to change their terms of use unilaterally? That is, if I bought a texture pack a year ago, under an unlimited terms-of-use agreement, can the creator change his mind and his terms without my consent and sue me for infringement if I don’t go along with it?

  26. Lesley says:

    There are very specific provisions in the Canadian Copyright Act for use of content in schools — read the provisions and determine if you situation falls within them. Note that the 10% figure is not a rule but an amount set out in an agreement with Access Copyright. An agreement can have various amounts — it just depends what the parties to the agreement agree upon.

  27. Lesley says:

    Your first “job” is to find out what’s protected by copyright and whether conversations are — generally only words in writing or recorded are protected. If protected, it is protected for 70 years after the author’s death (in the US) or life plus fifty (in Canada) — and is passed on to heirs similar to tangible property.

  28. Shannon says:

    Where would I learn about getting permissions from living persons for the right to reproduce what they said in a personal conversation? (eg., if and when these permissions are needed for quoting them in a printed publication). What if one is quoting something that someone said (who is now passed away)? Does one need any insurance to protect against litigation from his/her estate (if that is even possible)?

  29. Emily says:

    A teacher in Canada has asked me whether or not it is ok to show a clip from a video (one that is not covered by ACF or VEC) in the classroom as long as it is not the entire video – he is wondering if the idea behind the 10% rule for print materials covered by the Access Copyright license applies in a similar way to movies. And am I correct in thinking that teachers can show television programs for educational purposes in the classroom? Thank you!

  30. Sal's Gal says:

    Does the rental of DVDs online in the US require permission from the copyright owner if a legal copy is used as the rental?

  31. says:

    Hi Angela, the exemption to which you refer relates to sound recording. The definition of sound recording in the Canadian Copyright Act is: a recording, fixed in any material form, consisting of sounds, whether or not of a performance of a work….you may also want to look up the definition of performer's performance in the Act….you will have to read these definitions within the context of the exemption to pull together the application of the exemption.

  32. Angela says:

    I am the acquisitions clerk in a university library in Canada. I am responsible for ordering DVD materials for our collection as requested by our faculty. Because our faculty usually intend to use the DVDs in the classroom setting (versus home use only), we obtain the necessary permissions from the rights holder of each DVD at the time of ordering (non-theatrical public performance rights).

    I had been told by my predecessor that obtaining this permission for DVD recordings of musical works was not necessary because it is not a film or documentary. I have been doing some research and, after reading section 29.5 of the copyright law, it seems to me that the exemption for educational institutions only applies to playing a sound recording of a work and does not apply to a DVD version in which there are also visuals of the performance. From reading the copyright law, it sounds like I must still be obtaining the same permissions for DVD recordings of musical performances as we do for other films. Is this assumption correct? Are there any exemptions for educational institutions that would make it unnecessary for us to obtain these permissions? Thanks!

  33. says:

    Hi Copyrightfacilitator: Not sure what you mean that it was announced….fair dealing is a matter of interpreting its provisions to your factual situation. So it is possible that two different people would apply the law to the same fact situation and get a different result — part of the flexibility of fair dealing. It’s important that a single organization come together and use the same interpretations (whatever those may be) to manage copyright consistently throughout the organization.

  34. Copyrightfacilitator says:

    A question re vhs format:
    Our administrator asserts that vhs is now an obsolete format – that it was “announced that as of 31st October 2008” and wants us to start converting our library vhs tapes to dvd as permitted in clause 30.1 (c) re obsolete formats. Where can I get authoritative advice that such action would be premature at this time thus not permitted seven under fair dealing?

  35. says:

    If the students are making the cd’s in Canada, then Canadian law applies and you would look at fair dealing and not fair use. Fair use would have to be applied to each excerpt used and whether it was fair in terms of quality and quantity of that excerpt. There is no exact yes or no to your question.

  36. Cheryl says:

    A music instructor in a Canadian university requires his students to compile a CD of excerpts from commerical CDs, for an assignment. While it seems ok for the student to do this as part of his/her personal research outside of a course, is it alright for the instructor to make it a course requirement? I am not sure if this is ok under fair use or an educational exception…or not.

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