10 Canadian Copyright and Fair Dealing in Relation to Architectural Images and Models in the Academic Setting

Cindy Derrenbacker

Intended Audience: Lower-division to upper-division undergraduate architecture students

Session Length: One hour

Code Sections: Analytic writing, Making art

ACRL Frame: Information has value


This lesson plan introduces students to the practice of finding, using, and citing images for architectural study in compliance with fair dealing guidelines and the Canadian Copyright Act. The central learning objective is to understand practical image use within Canadian copyright and fair dealing and to ethically apply this knowledge to the research and presentation of architecture. A secondary objective is to have students consider how this knowledge applies to their model making (imitation vs. innovation) and what the implications may be for professional practice, such as being able to effectively communicate intent to a client. At the conclusion of the lesson, the instructor should be able to assess the lesson’s outcome based on students’ questions and their written feedback.

Learning Objectives

  • Define copyright and fair dealing in the Canadian context and in the local institutional setting
  • Recognize when and how fair dealing applies to the use of images and be cognizant of external influences in the design process when making architectural models, giving credit to antecedents when necessary
  • Create a philosophical statement related to fair dealing in the academy and in the architecture profession


  • PowerPoint facilities including projector/whiteboard/laptop, laser pointer, whiteboard markers/eraser
  • Presentation (see appendix 8)
  • Handouts for pre-assessment activity and evaluation of session
  • Flip chart paper with markers and masking tape for group activity

Lesson Plan

Bridge-in (Motivation)

Laurentian University’s McEwen School of Architecture is a design-build school in northern Ontario, Canada. Students are taught the importance of craft and are encouraged to research, experiment, design, and create. This culture of making is cultivated through studio assignments as students are required to research, sketch (often by hand), and build various iterations of architectural models or small-scale structures such as ice fishing huts, sculptural winter warming huts, birch bark canoes, and saunas. The question of fair dealing arises as students borrow or adapt design concepts from various sources including books and journals, Internet images, well-known architects, etc., to create structures they call their own, without acknowledging the original source(s) of inspiration. While the primary focus of this lesson is to learn to adopt best copyright and fair dealing practices when accessing and using architectural images, the issue of fair dealing can also come into play when making architectural models. Being self-aware of the influences that drive the design process contributes to one’s growth as an architectural professional.

Pre-Assessment Activity (12 minutes)

To get a sense of student knowledge on the topic of copyright and fair dealing, quickly survey the class, asking for honest feedback on where students search for images for their research papers. Write these specific answers on the whiteboard.

Secondarily, distribute promotional/review articles on the “Un/Fair Use” exhibition from October 2015-January 2, 2016 at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Center for Architecture. This exhibit evolved out of the Fall 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Workshop, “Appropriation: The Work of Architecture in the Age of Copyright.” Provide ten minutes for students to (re-)read through one of three brief articles previously assigned, all of which focus on the “Un/Fair Use” exhibition in New York. Note that in the interest of time, all three articles will be distributed, but each student will randomly receive only one of the articles to skim and to refresh his or her memory and to potentially comment on during the discussion period.

Promotional/Review Articles

  • Amanda Kolson Hurley, “The show, much like the obscure and curiously gripping legal opinions on architectural copyright, rewards the diligent reader,” Architect 104 no. 10 (2015): 117-122.
  • Anna Vallye, “What’s the use? Un/Fair Use at the AIA New York Center for Architecture,” arq 19 no. 4 (2015): 325-328.
  • “Exhibition: Un/Fair Use,” ArchDaily, accessed August 13, 2017, http://www.archdaily.com/773688/exhibition-un-fair-use.

While the articles focus on the “Un/Fair Use” exhibit on display in the United States, many of the issues raised in the articles provide a good basis for discussion of copyright and fair dealing in the Canadian architectural context.

Discussion (8 minutes)

Once students have read through one of the three articles, begin by quoting the promotional blurb in ArchDaily for the AIA New York exhibit: “Appropriation is as much a part of architecture as the expectation of novelty, and so it is at the very core of the discipline. Architecture advances via comment, criticism, parody, and innovation, forms of appropriation that fall under the umbrella of fair use. But what about when appropriation is deemed unfair? Where and how are the lines drawn around permissible use? Un/fair Use probes that legal boundary.”

Based on the article that each student has read, request student feedback on what they deem to be fair or unfair use when introducing images in their papers and when sketching and constructing architectural models. Some initial questions to ask might be: Do students sometimes change images (size or resolution) that they incorporate in their research papers? Do they credit the sources of their images? Are these image sources freely available in the public domain, found through Creative Commons, or retrieved through Artstor, a subscription database that links comprehensive metadata to images and allows for their use in unpublished educational activity?

Other questions to generate discussion might include: How much does imitation factor into innovative architecture? Can you think of some examples? Do students mimic design elements from their studio neighbors or from architects they admire when designing and building architectural models for evaluation by faculty? Is this an acceptable practice or the professional norm? To what extent should your creative work be your own?

Presentation (20 minutes )

Provide a PowerPoint presentation referencing Laurentian University’s institutional copyright policy and the principles of fair dealing based on the Copyright Act of Canada (http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-42/). This information is relevant for discussions on incorporating images in research assignments and appropriating conceptual design elements from others, especially those that fall under copyright, when creating architectural models. The policies of the local Canadian institution can be substituted for Laurentian’s on slides 7, 12, and 14 and the bibliography (slides 18 & 19). If time is short, consider assigning the PowerPoint in advance and discussing salient points during the lesson.

Group Activity (10 minutes)

Following the presentation, ask students to break into 5-6 groups and draft a philosophical statement regarding fair dealing when including images in research papers and when borrowing design elements while constructing architectural models. In the interest of time, the groups will be given several prompts to help get them started. Examples of prompts might be:

  1. To meet my goal of acknowledging the sources of information, images or conceptual design elements that have influenced my work, I…
  2. In light of today’s lesson, one aspect of successful architectural design means…
  3. To overcome the challenge of attributing credit to those in the art and design fields from which I mimic or borrow, I…

The intended outcome of this exercise is to have positive peer influence encourage a thoughtful approach to issues of copyright, fair dealing, and appropriation and to develop ethical and professional practices. Because this lesson plan is developed for the Canadian context, reference to the non-profit and National Art Service Organization, CARFAC, the Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens (http://www.carfac.ca/about/) could be made as well as mention of the American-based College Art Association’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts.

Assessment (5 minutes)

Once the group activity is complete, students will gather as a class and read their philosophical statements. There will be limited time for clarification of statements and follow-up discussion. Finally, students will be asked to complete a simple survey in an effort to gauge the level of learning engagement that has transpired. This form can be printed and circulated or could be electronically distributed and collated through Google Forms.

The simple evaluation form follows:

  • Did you find today’s presentation: Useful – Not useful – Somewhat useful
  • Why?


While I have not yet tested this lesson plan with students, it stems from a presentation that I regularly deliver at the McEwen School of Architecture entitled “Demystifying the Chicago Style for Research Papers.” In this presentation for lower-division architecture students I teach a segment on copyright and best practices for citing visual resources for scholarly purposes. I provide guidelines for citing images Chicago Style and reference my institution’s Policy on Academic Integrity, but focus less on the actual retrieval of images. In another instance, I teach first-year architecture students “On Researching Well” and include a segment on retrieving appropriate images that will enhance the quality of an analytical research paper, introducing the scholarly image database Artstor and images available through Creative Commons that can be used for educational purposes.

This lesson plan is an effort to synthesize some of what I have taught previously and to more clearly present copyright and the principles of fair dealing in the Canadian context and its relevance for students at the McEwen School of Architecture. My hope is that after this lesson, students will appropriately retrieve and cite architectural images in their research papers and consider the principles of fair dealing when constructing models in the studio and beyond. The group activity is an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge. By contributing to a draft philosophical statement regarding fair dealing, students will need to reflect on what they have learned and to consider what sort of ethical stance they will take when using images and when creating architectural models. They may carry this philosophical statement with them into professional practice.

In this age of copyright, it is intriguing that the discipline of architecture encourages the cross-pollination of ideas and designs, i.e., incorporating the good design concepts of others (perhaps a lineage of connected architects) while developing their own fresh approach. At Laurentian University, fourth-year architecture students are intentionally situated adjacent to first year students in the studio so that the lower-division students are positively influenced by the higher-level design work that evolves over the course of the semester in the more senior studio. Students are encouraged to draw upon a diverse palette of design concepts and to bring to bear a range of design elements suitable for particular site constraints and user requirements. Case study research may influence design.

When held accountable in a critique before a panel of faculty or community clients, students should be able to articulate the influences and deliberate design choices that are at play within their sketches, posters and architectural models. Oftentimes, the more professional student presentations are the ones that acknowledge the design influences of others, especially when it can be shown that a student has built upon these influences and achieved innovations within the constraints of the assignment or the client’s expressed requirements. From time-to-time, a tension exists between the appropriation of design concepts in the creative process of making architectural models and the principles of fair dealing. The goal is for students to recognize when they are appropriating and to acknowledge this in the design process through attribution. It is hoped that this self-awareness will continue as students become architectural practitioners.


  1. Booth, Char. Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2011.
  2. Amanda Kolson Hurley, “The show, much like the obscure and curiously gripping legal opinions on architectural copyright, rewards the diligent reader,” Architect 104 no. 10 (2015): 117-122.
  3. Anna Vallye, “What’s the use? Un/Fair Use at the AIA New York Center for Architecture,” arq 19 no. 4 (2015): 325-328.
  4. “Exhibition: Un/Fair Use,” ArchDaily, accessed August 13, 2017, http://www.archdaily.com/773688/exhibition-un-fair-use.


Fair Use in the Visual Arts: Lesson Plans for Librarians Copyright © 2018 by Cindy Derrenbacker. All Rights Reserved.

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