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Digital Copyright Clearance

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Digital Copyright Clearance

The University of Manitoba has established a one-year pilot project to assist faculty in obtaining digital copyright clearance for materials to be used online (refer to Digital Copyright Clearance Pilot Project Brochure). As the Copyright Act is currently under review and without specific reference to digital copyright, the Project is developing guidelines for digital copyright clearance based upon policies established for print materials.

In brief

  • In Canada, most material created is automatically and immediately copyright-protected.

  • Permission must be acquired to copy a substantial portion of a work. This is roughly interpreted as more than a paragraph of textual material. Graphs, diagrams, tables, etc. are considered to be substantial portions and, therefore, permission must be obtained to digitally reproduce them.

  • Material in the public domain is not bound by copyright. However, the vast majority of material published in print or on the Web is not considered to reside in the public domain. For example, documents issued by the federal or provincial governments in Canada are not in the public domain. Material on the Web is not considered public domain. You may, however, wish to create links to Web pages and send your students directly to material. Linking deeper than the home page of a website (deep-linking) is a murky area. You are advised to check the home page of the website to which you plan to place a deep link in order to establish that the site does not prohibit deep-linking.

  • In general, once the author has been deceased for 50 years, the work becomes public domain. Works created by more than one author become public property 50 years after the death of the last surviving author. If the material has been revised after the author’s death, it is once again copyright-protected until 50 years after the death of the revising author. Be advised, however, that although a work may be in the public domain (e.g., Hamlet), the form in which that work has been published (font, annotations, notes, etc.) remains copyright to the publisher, and clearance must be obtained.

  • Many journals require that the copyright to articles published be assigned to the journal, not remain with the author. The author, therefore, must obtain copyright clearance.

  • When uncleared materials are placed on a University of Manitoba server, the institution incurs a potential liability for copyright infringement.


  • Faculty members may seek, via the Project, digital copyright clearances for materials to be uploaded in password-protected course websites. Alternatively faculty members may seek and obtain the clearances themselves. Sample request letters are available from the Project staff.

  • In seeking digital copyright clearance, keep the following in mind:

  • As the clearance process is often lengthy, begin at least 8-10 weeks before you plan to upload the material.

  • Anticipate that publishers may:

  • need to investigate whether or not they actually own the digital rights to a work

  • require royalty payments/clearance fees;

  • grant clearances for limited time periods only (e.g., one term or session)

  • have specific guidelines regarding the manner in which copyright owner is credited on the digital material

It is also possible to request copyright clearances yourself. To do this, keep the following in mind:

  • You have two options: to request clearance directly from the rights holder (publisher, organization or association), or to use Access Copyright's Digital Rights Management Service. Often, obtaining clearance directly from publishers is faster and less costly the using Access Copyright's services. However, once you have approached a publisher for clearance and have received a response, you cannot then make the clearance request using the services of Access Copyright.

  • If an author holds the copyright, he/she must be contacted for permission. This route may also be slow as it can be difficult to locate and contact authors.

  • The Government of Canada is very slow to respond to clearance requests. Allow 8-10 weeks for a response.

  • If you cannot locate the rights holder to a work, you may contact the Copyright Board of Canada for clearance. Allow 8-10 weeks for a response.

  • Publishers have to establish whether or not they hold the digital rights to published works.

  • In requesting permission, indicate that UM is an educational institution, whether or not the cleared work will be sold to students, in what form and for what purpose the work will be copied, and the course number and title, expected enrolment, academic year and session.

  • You will be more likely to obtain permission if your site is password-protected, e.g., Web CT or electronic reserve.

  • Expect that you will be required to give the rights holder credit on the copied documents and include a permission statement provider by the rights holder. Permission will likely be granted for a limited time only (although some will give a blanket permission), that you may be asked to pay royalties, and that there may be other stipulations asked.

  • The project’s experience has been that 80% of their requests have been approved, it takes about 2 weeks for approval and most requests do not require payment.


For further information on the Digital Copyright Clearance Project, please contact:

Lillian MacKenzie, 474-7258

Shirley Cannon, 474-8004

Lori Wallace, 474-8042


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