Public DomainWhat is it? 

Copyright begins when a work is produced and is held by the creator. The rights of the copyright holder are allowed by the Copyright Act for a specific period of time. When that period ends, the work is considered to be in the public domain. Once in the public domain, the original creator has neither economic nor moral rights concerning the work.

No permission whatsoever is needed to copy or use public domain works. The majority of material found on the Internet is NOT in the public domain, even if it is publicly viewable.

“The duration of the copyright is according to the life of the author and not owner of a work. The general rule is that copyright and moral rights protection in a work endure for 50 years from the calendar year-end after the author’s death.” (Harris, 2014).

In Canada, copyright expires 50 years after the death of the author at the end of the calendar year.  For example, Ernest Hemmingway died on July 2nd, 1961. Copyright in his work expired on December 31st, 2011. Another example, Mordecai Richler died on July 3rd, 2001, his novels will remain copyrighted until December 31st, 2051, and will pass into the Public Domain on January 1st, 2052.

There are some instances where copyright expires 50 years after its first publication at the end of the calendar year. For example, material with a corporate author and photographs published before 1948.

Examples of works in the public domain:

  • Out-of-print editions of materials published in Canada by an author who has been dead for more than fifty years.
  • Photographs taken in Canada in 1949 and earlier by a photographer or a corporation, as these lapsed into the public domain prior to Canadian copyright changes in 1998.
  • Most U.S. Government created publications and photos are ineligible for copyright protection and are automatically released into the public domain.
  • Corporate records and photographs created in Canada more than 50 years old.
  • Government of Canada and most Canadian Provincial government records and photographs that have been published for more than 50 years (although some Crown rights may be reserved.)

It is important to note that the expiration of copyright on derivative works such as translations or scholarly editions dates from the death of the translator or the editor of the scholarly edition. While copyright on a work may have expired, new versions of the same work (translations, re-edited and annotated versions) may not be in the public domain.

It is also important to note that newspapers are NOT in the public domain.

Source of Newspaper Article Permission to email copies Permission to distribute paper copies in classroom Direct Questions to:
Newspaper website Terms of the website Terms of the website TRU Intellectual Office
Electronic copy licensed by library Terms of the license agreement between the vendor, publisher, and TRU Library supersedes Canadian Copyright Law Terms of the license TRU Library Collections Services Manager, Penny Haggarty, phaggarty@tru.ca
Paper copy, staff-written article (American) Public domain Public domain TRU Intellectual Office
Paper copy, staff-written (Canadian) Varies with publisher Varies with publisher TRU Library Collections Services Manager, Penny Haggarty, phaggarty@tru.ca
Paper copy, syndicated article Written permission from copyright holder Written permission from copyright holder TRU Intellectual Office

When you find a “syndicated article” for use, that term means signed columns by writers not on staff of the particular paper, cartoons, feature articles by freelance writers, horoscopes and puzzles. Wire service stories are considered to be written by staff.

The law differs in Canada from that in the U.S. where staff-written articles are considered to be in the public domain. Canadian newspapers take different attitudes toward the educational use of their content and toward its general distribution.  In the U.S., the New York Times website, allows up to 20 email addresses if you wish to send a copy of one of its articles to others. Wherever possible, use the TRU Library’s subscription to Canadian Newsstand Complete (a ProQuest database).

For more information, please contact the TRU Intellectual Property Office.


Harris, E. (2014). Canadian copyright law. Wiley: Hobeken, New Jersey

Thompson Rivers University. (2013).  Intellectual property office. Retrieved from http://www.tru.ca/ipo.html