Public Domain, Open Access and Creative Commons Material

Public Domain - Copyright does not last forever. The main purpose of copyright law is to allow creators of works to be reasonably rewarded for their creative efforts. To that end, there are statutory rules to determine when copyright protection of a work comes to an end.

On November 23, 2022 the Government of Canada announced that an Order in Council was signed to bring into force the amendments to the Copyright Act that were included in the Budget Implementation Act, 2022, No. 1 (Bill C-19).

Bill C-19 extends the general term of copyright protection in Canada from 50 to 70 years after the life of the author. The change with take effect on December 30, 2022, and the term extension will not apply to works that are already in the public domain. The copyright term extension to life plus 70 years was one of Canada’s obligations under the Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement and brings its term of copyright protection in line with most of its major trading partners.

When the term of copyright expires, the work is said to come into the public domain and is then available for anyone to use and copy without seeking permission from the copyright owner. The author retains no rights in the work. This is the reason that Dickens' books, Shakespeare's plays, and Beethoven's symphonies are no longer protected by copyright.

Calculation of the copyright term in publications with multiple authors would be based on December 31 of the year after the death of the last author. Different rules apply to performer's performances, sound recordings and communication signals.  See A Guide to Copyright for more information about the public domain in Canada.

Works can also be in the public domain because the work was not eligible for copyright protection in the first place or because the copyright owner has forfeited copyright in the work to the public. This can be done by stating on the work that it may be copied or reproduced without permission or payment of royalties. Restrictions can be placed on the uses that can be made of works in this case.

Open Access materials generally allow readers to view, download and copy the material freely for any lawful purpose. However, before using any open access materials check to see if there are any limits to the use of the content. The terms are set by the individual creator or copyright owner and can range from unrestricted use to partial access. Some online sources to find the open access content that is right for your course include the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR).

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to making it easier for individuals to share and build on the work of others. It provides a number of licences for copyrighted content that are standardized and communicate clearly what type of use the creator grants to users and what rights they wish to reserve. Information on the different types of licences and attribution requirements are provided on the Creative Commons site.

Links to online resources that are Public Domain, Open Access and Creative Commons content can be found here.