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Copyright Basics

The Canadian Intellectual Property Organization (CIPO) defines copyright as "the exclusive right to copy a creative work or allow someone else to do so."

Once a work is created and fixed in any material form, it is automatically protected by copyright. The copyright symbol (©) is often used to mark a work as being protected by copyright.

Generally, under Canadian copyright law, the creator of the work is the first owner of copyright and they have the exclusive, legal right to produce, reproduce or alter that work.

In general, copyright in Canada lasts for the life of the creator plus 50 years. After this, the work enters into the public domain and can be used by anyone.

Treaties such as the Berne Convention ensure that copyright protection is international. Countries that have signed the Berne Convention are afforded "National Treatment." "National Treatment" means international creators and Canadian creators are treated exactly the same in Canada. This also means that Canadian creators are treated the same way in other countries as that country's creators are treated in their country.

Why does it matter?

Copyright protection ensures that creators and publishers are compensated when selection of their work are reused, remixed and shared which ensures the continued creation of new and innovative works.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects traditional works such as literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, as well as non-traditional works such 

Literary works include books, magazines, newspapers, compilations, tables and computer programs.

Artistic works include such things as paintings, drawings, maps, charts, plans, photographs and engravings.

Copyright does not protect such things as facts, ideas, titles, names and phrases.

Copyright law grants two sets of rights: Economic Rights and Moral Rights.

Economic rights protect the economic interests of the copyright owner of a work and give the exclusive right to reproduce and authorize reproduction, public performance, publication, adaptation, translation and to communicate to the public by telecommunication. These rights can be licensed, assigned, waived or sold to someone else.

Moral rights are personal rights which aim to protect the reputation of a creator, including the right of attribution which ensures the right to be associated with the work and the right to remain anonymous, where reasonable. These rights can be waived, but cannot be sold or transferred to anyone else.

What is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when any person does, without the consent of the copyright owner, anything that Canada's Copyright Act has given the copyright owner the right to do.

Direct infringement includes the reproduction or publishing of a copyright protected work regardless of whether or not the infringer is aware of copyright laws.

Indirect infringement includes renting, selling, distributing or possessing copyright protected works for the purpose of selling or renting where the person knows or should know that it is an infringement of copyright.

In certain circumstances, Access Copyright can investigate and take action on behalf of copyright owners. If you believe you or someone else's copyright has been infringed, Access Copyright can investigate your complaint. For more information on Access Copyright's compliance services, please click here.

Exceptions to Copyright

There are several exceptions to copyright including fair dealing as well as specific education, and library, archive and museum exceptions.

Fair dealing is the ability to use copyright protected works for certain purposes and in certain ways without obtaining the copyright owner's consent or permission. The provisions for fair dealing are found in sections 29, 29.1 and 29.2 of Canada's Copyright Act. Fair dealing is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Education exceptions under the Copyright Act are for the use of copyright protected materials by and in educational institutions. These exceptions allow certain uses of copyright protected materials by and in educational institutions without seeking the permission of the copyright owner.

Library, Archives and museums (LAMs) exceptions under the Copyright Act allow for certain uses of copyright protected material without asking permission of the copyright owner.

In addition to these, works that are in the public domain can be used by anyone in any manner.

The Creative Commons licensing system provides tools that enable copyright owners to license their works to the public using a "some rights reserved" model as opposed to a traditional "all rights reserved" model. All Creative Commons licences permit distribution, display and copying of works provided the copyright owner's choice of terms is respected.

Registering a copyright?

Even though copyright is automatic upon creation and fixation of a work, there is still an opportunity to register your copyright. Registration of copyright is administered by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). After your copyright is registered for a work, you will receive a certificate which states that you are the copyright owner of that work. This certificate can be used in court as evidence and also helps users seeking permission to copy a work to find a copyright owner. To register a copyright, please visit the CIPO website.

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