Copyright implications for document delivery 

By Karen Herland

Professors become emotional when they learn that showing a film in class or posting a PDF on Moodle might violate copyright. Associate Librarian Olivier Charbonneau is reminded of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief.

"When I talk to people about copyright, reactions range from denial to bargaining to anger and eventual acceptance," joked Charbonneau.

Olivier Charbonneau Magnifying glass

Olivier Charbonneau

Charbonneau has been studying copyright and its implications for educational institutions for years now. On Jan. 21, he presented his perspectives to an audience representing a range of interests including professors, researchers, lawyers, representatives of the Bookstore and other librarians in an animated session as part of the Libraries' new series of information sessions for faculty and graduate students.

Using excerpts from Canada's copyright legislation, material from recent court rulings and his own tools, he attempted to help those in the room find their way along a continuum, "that puts user groups like librarians and students on one side versus those who think you can't read anything without paying for it on the other."

Since people representing a range of interests were present, the exchange of opinions was lively. After all, universities publish, distribute, share and consume texts all the time.

Charbonneau began his lecture by explaining that any original work (be it written or digitally recorded) belongs to the creator and cannot be substantially copied or reworked without express written permission.

That statement alone invokes some grey areas. What constitutes a 'substantial' amount? If someone posts an image on the internet and invites others to use it, how can anyone be sure the poster created the work?

The real issue for universities is raised in articles 29 to 29.2 of the law. Exceptions to copyright are defined as 'fair dealing' and include private study and research, as well as criticism or review and news reporting.

In addition, article 30.2 grants a librarian the right to do anything on behalf of an individual that they could do themselves to benefit their own study or research. Thus, a librarian can copy an article and deliver it to a researcher – the basis for the libraries' new scanning service, in which articles in printed journals are delivered to students or professors via PDF within 48 hours.

The distribution of digital documents is part of the difficulty.

"It used to be clear what you could do in a paper-only world. If you paid for a book, you could do what you liked with it," Charbonneau said.

For instance, there is no problem providing a link to a PDF document available on the internet on a Moodle site for class use. Putting the actual PDF on the site or emailing it is a potential copyright infringement. However, putting that same PDF on the library’s reserve system, for individual students to seek out, is not necessarily a copyright violation.

Charbonneau acknowledged there is a lot of ambiguity, particularly because there is no policy across universities to address specific issues of the digital world. Recently, the Canadian Association of University Teachers produced an advisory. (

He offered a brief checklist individuals can use to determine if the situation they find themselves in is one of fair dealing. Before sharing a work, consider the purpose and character of the dealing. How much of the work is being shared? What alternatives exist to the method of sharing you will use? What’s the nature of the work? What will be the effect of your sharing on the work itself?

For more information on copyright, or to invite Charbonneau to speak to your department on this issue, go to


Concordia University