Blogging regularly as part of Algonquin College’s “Introduction to Social Media” course has really forced me to hone my skill and agility as a creator of content. Though I hope to move away from text-laden posts in the future, I am generally proud of the unique work I have produced so far and the original way in which I have articulated my thoughts and ideas in writing. While drafting my last blog post, I had considered stepping outside of my comfort zone a little bit by adding a graphic or two to enhance my final product. However, inspiration quickly turned into total risk aversion as I thought about sourcing the types of images I was thinking of including in my post: I would inevitably have had to cull them from content generated by other users. This left me mulling over the question as to whether or not I had the right to do that?
As per the old adage, “you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl”, I am an information management professional by day who can’t simply check my preoccupations with certain issues at the door when I turn my attention over to social media studies at the end of a work day. I have grown particularly sensitive to the issue of copyright as a result of my experience in the information management field. Though I am by no means an expert on this subject, I am well aware of the fact that it has implications for both you and me as creators of original content: you and I hold rights to control when and how our creations are used by others, and naturally, the creators of content we wish to use likewise hold rights themselves. Given that our studies will require us to keep producing original content for consumption by fellow students for the remainder of this academic term, I thought it was high time to at least educate myself, if not others, on what basic rights we hold to the content we produce or use in the course of blogging. I decided to begin by ensuring that I clearly understood to what, exactly, copyright refers.
What is copyright?
As a general term, copyright is defined as “the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same” . Copyright rules and regulations – including those surrounding the length of time for which copyright protection applies – vary from country to country. In Canada, the legal framework within which it is determined if, and when, one has the right to produce or reproduce – in whole or in part – a “work”, a “performer’s performance”, a “sound recording”, or a “communication signal”, is set forth by the Copyright Act and its supporting Copyright Regulations. As a 186-page legislative document, the Act is probably – and understandably – not on most individuals’ “must-read” lists. Yet copyright is extremely relevant to our activities on social media, so we would be wise to familiarize ourselves with how it pertains to the content we produce or reuse online.
Social media offers endless opportunities for us to create and use content in a wide variety of media. This content may manifest itself as original literary works such as a blogs; as photographs; as images; or even as videos or sound recordings; etc. As outlined in the online publication of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), A guide to copyright:
Copyright applies to every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work where the author was at the date of the making of the work a citizen or subject of, or a person ordinarily resident in, Canada or some other treaty country. (A treaty country is defined as a Berne Convention country, a Universal Copyright Convention country or a World Trade Organization [WTO] member.) 
A work is only automatically free to use in any way one chooses when it is not protected by copyright and thereby considered to be in the public domain ; but the point in time at which the duration of copyright expires and a work enters the public domain can be rather unpredictable since it is typically tied to the author’s life span with only a few exceptions (e.g., where the author is unknown) .
While a work remains protected by copyright, it can only be used where consent to do so has been granted by the copyright owner – be that you or me, or someone else whose work we wish to use – and only in the manner the copyright holder specifies. Luckily, licensing offers a practical means for copyright owners to grant permission for particular uses of the works for which they hold copyright by setting out parameters regarding “the number [of] uses, the bounds of use and even the length of time until the license expires” . The non-profit organization Creative Commons (CC) has emerged as a leading source of easy-to-use standardized copyright licenses that immediately enable “the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools” .
“Fair dealing”: a student’s reprieve from copyright infringement.
I embarked on my research into Canadian copyright law because of my concern over infringing on the copyright of others in contributing to this group blog for Algonquin College’s Social Media Certificate Program. To clarify, copyright infringement “is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder” . Though I may never fully gain my footing in the ever-evolving and contentious legal landscape of copyright, it appears that, for now, the Copyright Act may offer some safe terrain for you and me as student bloggers. Section 29 of the Act speaks to an exception to copyright infringement known as fair dealing – “a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work” . The Act indicates that, “[f]air dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright [emphasis added]” , with subsections 29.4 through 30.04 detailing the specific exemptions granted to educational institutions or persons acting under their authority. As an educational institution, Algonquin College has proceeded to issue its own policy, AA 34: Copyright, applicable to both employees and students of the College, to further help us comply with the legal requirements of the Canadian Copyright Act.
I will judiciously stop there and simply encourage you to refer directly to the College’s policy, the Copyright Act, the Copyright Regulations and the CIPO guide mentioned earlier for more details on how copyright law applies in Canada. Suffice it to say, users of social media stand to benefit from familiarity with copyright issues. As some of us consider launching our respective contributions beyond the confines of this Algonquin College group blog into the broader realm of cyberspace, I recommend that we keep the following in mind along the way:
- When we create original works online, let’s think about if or how we would like others to use them. As the copyright holders, are we willing to license others to use our works in certain ways?
- Where we wish to use works for which others hold copyright, do we have, or could we secure, the right to use them in the way we intend to do so?
- “copyright”. Oxford Dictionaries. 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/copyright (16 March 2016).
- Canadian Intellectual Property Office. A guide to copyright. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipoInternet-Internetopic.nsf/eng/h_wr02281.html
- “Public Domain”. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://copyright.ubc.ca/guidelines-and-resources/support-guides/public-domain/
- Harris, Lesley Ellen (4 November 2015). “Canadian Copyright for Bloggers”. Fourth Edition: Canadian Copyright Law. Retrieved from http://canadiancopyrightlaw.ca/blog/
- Bushell, David (14 June 2011). “Understanding Copyright and Licenses”. Smashing Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/06/understanding-copyright-and-licenses/
- “copyright infringement”. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_infringement (16 March 2016).
- “fair dealing”. Wikipedia. https://www.google.ca/search?q=definition:+fair+dealing&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=EGrtVoDgBOLrjgS85YK4Dw (17 March 2016).
- Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42). Retrieved from the Department of Justice Canada website: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-42/FullText.html