Generative artificial intelligence

The use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools raises important copyright considerations, which should always be taken into account.


The use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools has become commonplace in universities throughout Canada and beyond, both for research and education purposes. However, the use of these tools also raises important copyright considerations, which should always be taken into account.

For information relating to specific generative AI tools, as well as how to use and cite them, see the Library’s Generative AI guide.

Can I input an article, book chapter, or other content into an AI tool?

Generative AI tools can have many different inputs, from the materials initially used to train the specific models to the prompts or other materials submitted to them by their users. In many cases, this content will be protected by copyright.

Before submitting content as input to a generative AI tool, consider whether this would be allowed under Canadian copyright law, as well as any applicable content licences. See below for information relating to various types of content:

  • Library-licensed content

The Library has negotiated content licences for the University community for a large volume of online articles, e-books, and other types of content, available via the Library catalogue. In most cases, these licences do not allow the online articles, e-books, or other content to be uploaded to a generative AI tool. 

  • Content for which you hold the copyright

As long as you hold the copyright to it, you are free to upload your own original content to a generative AI tool. As a creator of original material within the scope of your teaching or research activities at the University of Ottawa (APUO and APTPUO members), or as a student, you are usually entitled to the copyright to your work.

Note: It is possible that you do not own the copyright to your own published material! Many scholarly journals and publishers ask you to sign your copyright interests over to them when they agree to publish your article, chapter, or book. Always check the terms of your agreement with the publisher.

  • Creative Commons-licensed content

Open access is a growing movement in the scholarly publishing world. This refers to a publishing model in which authors and publishers make their works openly available to others without a fee. The most common type of licences for open access works are Creative Commons licences.

As long as the terms of the applicable Creative Commons licences are respected, you should be free to upload such content to a generative AI tool.

  • Insubstantial or public domain content

Insubstantial (i.e., very limited) portions of copyright-protected content can be freely reproduced under Canadian copyright law and can therefore be legally uploaded to generative AI tools. Public domain content, for which copyright protection has expired, may also be used in a similar way. For more information on insubstantial use or the public domain, see Alternatives to copyright.

Who owns the copyright to content generated by an AI tool?

When using AI tools to generate content, be aware that you may not hold the copyright to it, and that copyright protection may not even apply to it in the first place.

Canadian copyright protects original works that are the product of a creator’s exercise of skill and judgment. Under current Canadian law, it is unclear whether AI-generated materials fulfil these conditions and would therefore be eligible for copyright protection. In the United States, however, recent case law has established that AI-generated content is generally not protected by copyright. This is subject to change as the legal landscape surrounding AI continues to evolve.

You should also familiarize yourself with the terms of use of any generative AI tool before using it, as these may determine ownership of any generated content, as well as what you are permitted to do with it. These may also outline what use the generative AI tool can make of the content that you upload to it.

Finally, keep in mind that the content generated by AI tools may not be original, but rather a reproduction or adaptation of existing content that was previously uploaded to the model and used as training data. In such cases, copyright to the generated content may belong to the copyright holder of the training data.

If you have any further questions about copyright and AI, please contact us.

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