A Guide to Copyright (Page 1 of 3)
Understanding Copyright — The Basics
Purpose of this guide
This guide explores what copyright is, the registration process and the benefits of registration. It is not intended as a complete text on Canadian law regarding copyright or a substitute for advice from a legal professional knowledgeable in the area of intellectual property.
The Client Service Centre can also provide further information.
Definitions of terms used in this guide are listed in the glossary.
Who we are
The Copyright Office is responsible for registering copyrights in Canada, and is part of the Copyright and Industrial Design Branch of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), a special operating agency of Industry Canada. CIPO is responsible for administering Canada's system of intellectual property rights: copyright, patents, trade-marks, industrial designs and integrated circuit topographies.
The main functions of the Copyright Office are to:
- register copyrights;
- register assignments and licences; and
- maintain the Register of Copyrights.
The Client Service Centre is the central point of contact for communicating with CIPO. Information Officers can provide information on CIPO's products and services, as well as guidance in navigating the various intellectual property databases.
Visit the "Copyright" section of the website for the following:
- instructions on getting started;
- access to the Canadian Copyrights Database;
- legislation, including the Copyright Act and Copyright Regulations; and
- online and printable forms, including the application for registration.
Protecting valuable creations
A poem, painting, musical score, performer's performance, computer program—all are valuable creations, although perhaps no one can measure their worth. Some may earn a lot of money in the marketplace and others none at all. Regardless of their merit or commercial value, Canadian law protects all original creative works, provided the conditions set out in the Copyright Act have been met. This means that if you own the copyright to a poem, song, or other work, you have rights that are protected under the Copyright Act.
Simply put, the Act prohibits others from copying your work without your permission. Its purpose, like that of other pieces of intellectual property legislation, is to protect copyright owners while promoting creativity and the orderly exchange of ideas.
What is copyright?
In the simplest terms, "copyright" means "the right to copy." In general, copyright means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form. It includes the right to perform the work or any substantial part of it or, in the case of a lecture, to deliver it. If the work is unpublished, it includes the right to publish the work or any substantial part of it.
Copyright means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form.
Copyright also applies to other subject-matter consisting of performer's performances, sound recordings and communication signals. For these, the applicable rights may differ somewhat. For example, the copyright in a sound recording consists of the sole right to publish the sound recording for the first time, to reproduce it in any material form, to rent it out and to authorize any such acts.
People occasionally confuse copyright with patents, trade-marks, industrial designs and integrated circuit topographies. Although all of these are forms of intellectual property, they differ as follows:
- Copyright provides protection for literary, artistic, dramatic or musical works (including computer programs) and other subject-matter known as performer's performances, sound recordings and communication signals.
- Patents cover new inventions (process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter) or any new and useful improvement to an existing invention.
- Trade-marks are words, designs, or any combination, used to distinguish the goods or services of one person or organization from those of others in the marketplace.
- Industrial designs are the visual features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornament, or any combination of these features, applied to a finished article.
- Integrated circuit topographies refer to the three-dimensional configuration of electronic circuits embodied in integrated circuit products or layout designs.
What is protected by copyright?
Copyright applies to all original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works provided the conditions set out in the Copyright Act have been met. Each of these general categories covers a wide range of creations, including:
- literary works: books, pamphlets, computer programs and other works consisting of text;
- dramatic works: motion picture films, plays, screenplays, scripts, etc.;
- musical works: musical compositions with or without words; and
- artistic works: paintings, drawings, maps, photographs, sculptures, plans, etc.
Copyright also applies to subject-matter other than works, consisting of:
- performer's performances meaning any of the following when done by a performer:
- a performance of an artistic, dramatic or musical work, whether or not the work was previously fixed (recorded) and whether or not the work's term of copyright protection has expired;
- a recitation or reading of a literary work, whether or not the work's term of copyright protection has expired; and
- an improvisation of a dramatic, musical or literary work, whether or not the improvised work is based on a pre-existing work.
- sound recordings: recordings consisting of sounds, whether or not a performance of a work, but excludes any soundtrack of a cinematographic work where it accompanies the cinematographic work; and
- communication signals: radio waves transmitted through space without any artificial guide, for reception by the public.
Conditions for copyright
Copyright applies to every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work where the author was at the date of the making of the work a citizen or subject of, or a person ordinarily resident in, Canada or some other treaty country.
Copyright also applies when a work is first published in a treaty country even if the author was not a citizen or subject of, or a person ordinarily resident in, Canada or some other treaty country.
A treaty country is defined as a Berne Convention country, a Universal Copyright Convention country or a World Trade Organization (WTO) member.
See the glossary for lists of contracting parties and members.
The Minister may also extend protection to other countries that are not treaty countries by way of notice in the Canada Gazette.
Subject-matter other than works
Copyright applies to a performer's performance if it takes place in Canada or a Rome Convention country, or if it is fixed (recorded) in a sound recording whose maker is a citizen or permanent resident of Canada or a Rome Convention country. If the maker of the sound recording is a corporation, it must have its headquarters in Canada or a Rome Convention country.
Copyright also applies if the performance is fixed in a sound recording whose first publication occurred in Canada or a Rome Convention country, or if the performer's performance is transmitted by a communication signal broadcast from Canada or a Rome Convention country by a broadcaster that has its headquarters in the country of broadcast.
See the glossary for a list of contracting parties of the Rome Convention.
The maker of a sound recording has a copyright in the sound recording if at the date of the first fixation the maker is a citizen or permanent resident of Canada, a Berne Convention country, a Rome Convention country or a WTO member. If the maker of the sound recording is a corporation, it must have its headquarters in one of the foregoing countries. Copyright also applies if the sound recording is first published in one of those countries.
See the glossary for lists of contracting parties and members of the Berne Convention, the Rome Convention and the WTO.
A broadcaster has a copyright in the communication signal that it broadcasts if it has its headquarters in Canada, in a country that is a WTO member or in a Rome Convention country and broadcasts the communication signal from that country.
See the glossary for lists of contracting parties and members of the Rome Convention and the WTO.
Benefits of registration
The Copyright Act provides that a certificate of registration of copyright is evidence that copyright exists and that the person registered is the owner of the copyright. However, please note that the Copyright Office is not responsible for policing or checking on registered works and their use, nor can it guarantee that the legitimacy of ownership or the originality of a work will never be questioned.
How long does copyright last?
Generally, copyright lasts for the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and for 50 years following the end of that calendar year. Therefore, protection will expire on December 31 of the 50th year after the author dies.
Some exceptions are discussed below. Note that these exceptions are not all-encompassing. Any issues where clarification of ownership is required should be resolved with the help of a legal professional knowledgeable in the area of intellectual property.
Works of Crown copyright
These government publications are created for or published by the Crown. Copyright in these works lasts for the remainder of the calendar year in which the work is first published, and for 50 years after that.
In the case of a work that has more than one author, the term will last for the remainder of the calendar year in which the last author dies, and for 50 years after that.
In the case of a work where the identity of the author is unknown, copyright in the work shall exist for whichever is the earlier of:
- the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work plus 50 years; or
- the remainder of the calendar year of the making of the work plus 75 years.
These are literary, dramatic or musical works, or engravings, protected by copyright that have not been published, performed in public or communicated to the public by telecommunication during the lifetime of the author.
Please see section 7 of the Copyright Act for details regarding the term of copyright for such works.
Subject-matter other than works
Copyright lasts until the end of 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the performance occurs. If it is fixed in a sound recording before the copyright expires, the copyright continues for 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which it is first fixed. If the sound recording is published before the copyright expires, the copyright continues until 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the first publication occurs or 99 years after the end of the calendar year in which the performance occurs, whichever is earlier.
Copyright lasts until 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the first fixation of the sound recording occurs. If the sound recording is published before the copyright expires, the copyright continues for 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the first publication occurs.
Copyright lasts until 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the signal was broadcast.
What to consider before filing an application
The Copyright Office can provide you with the basic information that you need to file your own application for registration of copyright. However, the Office cannot prepare your application, interpret the Copyright Act or the Copyright Regulations for you or assist you in any matters other than registration or the use of Office records. For legal advice, you should consult a legal professional knowledgeable in the area of intellectual property.
The records of the Copyright Office may be searched for information such as copyright owners' names and changes to ownership. The Copyrights Database will allow you to search all of the Canadian copyrights registered as of October 1991, free of charge.
Searches can be conducted using author name, category, country of publication, owner/assignee name, registration number, title, and year of publication.
Searching at the Copyright Office
If necessary, after searching online you may wish to visit the Client Service Centre where copyright registrations dating back to 1841 are stored, including copyrights registered prior to 1991 that are not accessible online.