April 26, 2021

Respecting Copyright in Distance Education

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

This article is a translation of a text first published in Profweb’s French edition.
This article does not constitute legal advice. It is the result of research carried out on the subject of copyright.

Can a film be shown during a synchronous activity? Can you distribute photocopies of a book on Moodle or LÉA? It is easy to get lost in all the considerations associated with copyright in education, especially when it comes to distance learning. This article aims to provide some information to college teachers about their obligations and options for reproducing or distributing content.

For a fair use of copyright-protected works

The Copyright Act contains numerous exceptions directly related to the use of copyright material in the educational context. The Act provides that teachers may reproduce short excerpts from a copyrighted work for educational purposes, provided that the use is fair. However, the definition of what constitutes fair use and what does not, is not clearly defined.

Books, periodicals, poems, newspapers, etc.

With regard to textual and visual publications, in order to offset the problems associated with the grey areas of the Act and to compensate the authors of books, all institutions in the college network (public or private) subscribe to the Copibec college licence. Teachers must respect the limits associated with this licence and declare their use of protected material.

Reproducible portion of a work

In a work that is not specifically designed for college use
In general, Copibec’s college licence allows you to reproduce 15% of a publication (unless that publication is included in the list of exclusions from Copibec’s repertoire [PDF]). It also allows you to reproduce, among other works:

  • an article
  • a page from a newspaper or periodical
  • a chapter, provided that it does not exceed 15% of the total pages of a book
  • a short text from a collection
  • an image from a book or magazine

You can distribute a hard copy to your students or distribute it digitally to your students on a secure site to which only your students have access (e.g., Moodle, LÉA or Teams).

In a work specifically designed for college teaching

If you want to reproduce an excerpt from a publication specifically designed for college teaching (a textbook, a collection of exercises), then the rule changes: you may reproduce (in print or digitally on a secure site) only a maximum of 10% of the work, up to a maximum of 25 pages, that is:

  • maximum 25 pages in a book of 250 pages or more
  • maximum 10% in a book of less than 250 pages.

Inform Copibec of your use of a copyrighted work

If you teach at an institution with more than 700 full-time students, you are obligated to report your use of copyrighted works. If your institution is smaller, you are not legally bound to declare your use of each work (but you are still required to use only short excerpts of the copyrighted works, within the limits stated above).

How to report a use of copyrighted work to Copibec?

If you teach at an institution with more than 700 full-time students, how you report your use of copyrighted works varies from institution to institution. Your college may ask you to report:

  • on the Copibec website (in a module called Savia), free of charge
  • on an “in-house” form. The person in charge of the library or the photocopy service of your college periodically transmits the information from all the teachers to Copibec
  • using Repro+, a subscription-based tool used by the photocopy service of several colleges, which includes a module specifically dedicated to declaring copyright for material on digital media
  • using the DDA module of the fee-based tool Dexero (only used at Cégep à distance, the Collège d’Alma, Collège de Rosemont and Collège Montmorency and in some universities).

If your college has fewer than 700 full-time students, you are still strongly encouraged to declare your use of copyrighted works. If your college has not specified a way to do this, you can take the initiative to report your use of copyrighted works on the Copibec website yourself.

What is the purpose of declaring a use of a copyrighted work to Copibec?

When you report that you have used a certain number of pages of an author’s book in your course, Copibec pays the author the royalties. In fact, each year, colleges pay Copibec the amount of $10.50 per registered student. Copibec then divides this amount among the authors whose works were used by college teachers proportionally to the use that was made.

There is no additional charge to you or your college when you report the use of a work. This only serves to ensure a fair redistribution of the money already managed by Copibec.

What Copibec’s college licence does not cover

As a general rule, you:

  • may not use an extract longer than permitted
  • may not reproduce extracts of copyrighted works for corporate training: only for teaching the students enrolled at your college.

However, it is possible to request special permission from Copibec. You will have to pay a fee depending on the number of pages you use.

To use a work on Copibec’s exclusion list [PDF], you must obtain permission directly from the rights holder, publisher or author.

Citing sources: mandatory in all cases

Bear in mind that the above procedures do not exempt you from the requirement to give the correct bibliographic reference, so that your students know the origin of the work and the author’s copyright is respected.


With respect to music, SOCAN, which administers music copyrights, considers that the Copyright Act allows teachers to play any music they want during their online or in-person classes without having to pay royalties or declare any rights. This means that you can play songs that are on Spotify during your classes (whether online or in person) or take out your guitar to perform any music you like. What’s more, the course can be recorded, and the recording can then be uploaded to a secure site that only your students have access to (such as Moodle, LÉA or Teams).

What about videos?

About videos:

  • In a synchronous course that is not recorded, the rules are the same as in an in-person course.
    You can show an entire DVD as long as it was legally obtained. For example, if you have a DVD that you bought in a big-box store, you can show the film to your class of students in its entirety and without having to declare anything to an authority. Similarly, you can borrow a DVD from your college library and show it to your students.
    Your college library may also have a wealth of online videos available through its databases that you can show in class or direct students to. The list of these databases varies from institution to institution. They may include:

    • CBC’s content on Curio
    • films from major American producers such as 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers on Criterion-on-Demand
    • videos from the National Film Board (NFB) catalogue on Campus

    For videos offered on a video streaming service, you should check regularly on a case-by-case basis, as conditions may change without notice. For example:

    • As a general rule, videos hosted on YouTube can be shown in class, unless the description of the video states otherwise. Also make sure that the video is not an illegal copy of a copyrighted work: make sure that the user who uploaded it owns the rights.
    • If you have a Netflix account, the terms of use prevent you from showing the videos to people outside your home. However, there are some videos that are an explicit exception to the rule, when the viewing is for educational purposes. These are clearly marked with an “Educational Screening Permission” on their presentation page on Netflix. You can consult the list. (You still need to be a Netflix subscriber).
    • Videos available free of charge on the Télé-Québec [in French] website or on ICI TOU.TV [in French] can be broadcast in class. In addition, if you have a subscription to ICI TOU.TV EXTRA, you can broadcast the videos to which they give you access for educational purposes (but do not share your login information).

Always verify the terms of use of a video streaming platform before using it to deliver content to the classroom.

  • In an asynchronous teaching context (or if a synchronous lecture is recorded), you cannot use a work in its entirety. You cannot distribute a digital version of a copyrighted work on your course site. It would no longer be a broadcasting of the video, but a reproduction, which the rights holders rarely allow.
    However, the Copyright Act does allow for the use of short excerpts of audiovisual works for educational purposes in this context. In the provinces outside Quebec, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada has established that 10% of the total duration of a work is a reasonable definition of a short excerpt, but this has not been validated by the courts. Additionally, it is reasonable to assume that you will not be able to reproduce even a short excerpt from a work available online on a site that is subject to a fee or that clearly states that reproduction is prohibited. If it is essential for you to play an extract from a copyrighted video for a teaching activity, it is best to contact the educational technology specialists of your college library. And, in every case, you will have to acknowledge the source.

A simple solution to avoid headaches is to use videos available on library databases or those available for free and legally on the web. In this case, simply include the URL link to the video.

Alexandra Lavallée, Educational Technology Specialist at Cégep Limoilou

To avoid getting lost

Remember that before using a copyrighted work in the classroom, you can look at whether there are alternative solutions that are made available free of charge. This will make things easier.

However, as Alexandra Lavallée points out, all the notions relating to copyright in teaching can quickly become a real headache. Don’t hesitate to contact your college’s educational technology specialists for help in finding your way through this maze!

Special thanks to Alexandra Lavallée, Educational Technology Specialist at Cégep Limoilou, and to Nicolas Boudreault, agent at Copibec‘s post-secondary education sector, for their invaluable assistance.

About the author

Catherine Rhéaume

Catherine Rhéaume is an editor and writer for Eductive (previously Profweb) since 2013. She also teaches physics at Cégep Limoilou. Her work for Eductive fosters her interest for technopedagogy and encourages her to try innovative teaching practices.

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