Integrating others’ works into your own: My practices

Mon Nov 8 12:13:12 2010 EST (-0500 GMT)

I am not a lawyer, and I am not prepared to give legal advice. That said, here are some general practices for dealing with copyrighted works that respect the tradition of academia and are influenced by the current realities in Canadian intelectual property developments. This is the same advice that I’ve been giving my Interactive Arts and Sciences students in the two courses I teach at Brock University.

Three important principles are:

Access Canada (formally CanCopy) which gives educational exceptions to copyright does not apply on-line, only to some paper-based situations.
The distinction between “taking” or “making” a copy versus referring others to an artifact is very important.
“Fair Dealing” (“Fair Use” in the U.S.) is not well defined. There are exceptions for small portions of a text for educational use or satire etc., but there is no set amount. Canadian judges have not created a test, like a percentage, for all types of media. However, for practical reasons many individuals and institutions have chosen “workable” number with the advice of legal council.

Linking is almost always a good idea. Many court cases in the US and Canada have held that you are not liable for directing people to something hosted/posted by someone else that violate copyright. For example, showing a YouTube video posted by someone else should not leave you liable. Additionally, most of the library’s agreements with journal providers insist students are linked to the articles, NOT downloaded and redistributed.


Reusing artifacts, or otherwise including images and other media from the web. Any explicit prohibition from reusing work trumps anything else; an image with a copyright logo or ‘not for reuse’ message would unsurprisingly prevent reuse. In the absence of those types of messages, using a work with a citation *should* be fine.

Please also remember that the legal system does not allow individuals to act as if they are literal idiots and claim that a copyright message was missing when the work was accessed; or to somehow have a third-party break copyright and source the third-party; or use a technological deterministic approach and suggest that if its technically possible to grab something than it is permissible; or similar arguments.

Bottom Line:

Be honest about your sources. The academic tradition, especially the sciences, involves referencing and incorporating the works of others. As long as you are transparent about this process and respect the genuine wishes of others you should be able to incorporate the works of others without issue.

Additional Notes:

I like to use services that allow you to search for “Creative Commons” works; which are explicitly marked as free for reuse, often with just attribution sometimes less. This makes it a lot easier. For example, in flickr’s advanced search ( ) you can select “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content ” at the bottom of the page. Or there’s, or MediaWikis commons or has its own search tool as well.

Brock University’s James A. Gibson Library Style Guides:

Lastly, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Almost all questions of intelectual property, reuse and ownership, can be taken to court to answer – regardless of who is correct.

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