Copyright – Learn the basics
Protect your original works. Learn why copyright matters.
From: Canadian Intellectual Property Office
Welcome to the Copyright – Learn the basics online module
Do you use images, audio works or written materials owned by someone else, or does your business do so?
Do you share photos on social media, stream music online or upload videos on popular video platforms?
Find out what copyright is and how it is becoming increasingly important in a digital world.
Learn how copyright can protect the expression of your ideas, how you benefit from the ownership of that copyright and how to legally use the works of others.
This module is aimed at those who would like to learn about intellectual property (IP), specifically copyright.
This can include:
- Canadian small and medium-sized businesses
In this module, you will learn:
- what copyright is and what it protects
- how copyright can be a valuable business asset
- how to register your copyright
- best practices on managing your copyright
IP refers to creations of the mind, such as designs, inventions, brand names, slogans and logos used in commerce, as well as literary and artistic works.
Copyright is not just for novelists and musicians. Many businesses that use creative works as part of their commercial activities, such as software development companies, artwork designers and broadcasters, should also have an IP strategy to manage these assets and make the best use of them.
Copyright applies to websites, marketing and promotional materials, and can therefore be an integral part of the success of a business. Learn why copyright matters.
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What is an original work?
It is the original expression of an idea in an artistic, literary, musical or dramatic form.
In Canada, an original work is automatically protected by copyright upon its creation in a fixed form, such as:
- on paper
- in musical notation
- in a file saved on a computer drive
Types of works: Artistic
Artistic works include works of art, works of artistic craftsmanship and architectural works, such as:
- Maps, blueprints and buildings
- Paintings and sculptures
Types of works: Literary
Literary works are expressed in print or writing, such as in the following forms:
- Books and pamphlets
- Computer programs and software
- Website content
Types of works: Musical
Musical works include any work of music or musical composition, with or without words, such as:
- Musical notations
- Musical compositions with lyrics
Types of works: Dramatic
Dramatic works include cinematographic and choreographic works, as well as other dramatic creations, such as:
- Motion picture films
- Plays, screenplays and scripts
Types of works: Compilations
Compilations are selections or arrangements of artistic, literary, musical and dramatic works (or parts of them) or of data, such as datasets and databases.
These are particularly important in our data-driven economy, as they are more economically valuable than ever for businesses.
- Datasets and spreadsheets
What is copyright?
Generally, copyright is the exclusive legal right to produce, reproduce, publish or perform an original artistic, literary, musical or dramatic work.
To obtain a registered copyright in Canada, you must file an application with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).
What does copyright protect?
Copyright protects all original works, provided the conditions in the Copyright Act have been met.
Through copyright, authors have the right to prevent others from reproducing their work or copying any substantial portion of it.
Owning the copyright for a work means you have the exclusive right to commercially benefit from its use. Those who want to use your work will have to acquire the right or get your permission.
A work protected by copyright in Canada is also automatically protected in all Berne Convention member countries (the vast majority of the world's countries, including Canada).
You also benefit from moral rights, which will be addressed later in the module.
Conditions for protection
A work must meet 3 conditions in order to be protected by copyright:
The condition of originality means your work must be the result of your own creativity. Copying somebody else's work does not make your work original. You need to have used your skill and judgment to create the work.
However, to clarify, 2 artists painting the same subject on different canvases could produce 2 different original works.
Copyright only protects the expression of an idea, not ideas by themselves.
For example, if you write a book about a boy who lives in the jungle with wild animals, then you have the copyright over that specific story in the way you chose to express it. However, you cannot stop anyone else from writing a book about the idea behind the book: a boy who lives in a jungle with wild animals. Therefore, many expressions of this idea could come to be, such as Tarzan and The Jungle Book.
Works must be fixed in a material format, such as:
- video recordings
- audio recordings
- hard drives and memory cards
The work must be original.
The work must be an expression of an idea, not the idea itself.
The work must be fixed in a material form.
Related rights, also commonly called "neighbouring rights," protect the legal and economic interests of certain persons and legal entities that contribute to making works available to the public.
There are 3 categories of beneficiaries:
- Broadcast organizations
- Producers of sound recordings
Distinguishing authorship and ownership
The creator of an original work will always remain its author.
However, the author of the work may not always be the owner. Any other individual or legal entity could become the owner through a transfer of ownership of the work.
Distinguishing these 2 concepts is essential in fully understanding copyright protection, since the author is tied to the work, in that their life will always have a bearing on the duration of copyright protection.
Copyright includes not only economic rights, but also moral rights.
Moral rights protect the author's right of:
- attribution (to be credited with the work, including anonymity or the use of pseudonyms)
- integrity (the work cannot be modified or used in association with a product or service in a way that causes prejudice to the author's honour or reputation)
Unlike other IP rights, moral rights cannot be sold or given away. Even in the case of a sale, an author retains their moral rights in the work, unless they choose to waive these rights.
The case of Canadian artist Michael Snow and his sculptural installation, Flight Stop, is a good example of the importance of moral rights.
Marking your work with the copyright symbol is not mandatory under Canadian copyright law, but it is a useful reminder that your work is protected by copyright.
The mark consists of the © symbol, followed by the name of the copyright owner and the year of first publication.
Duration of copyright protection
Generally, copyright lasts for the life of the author, plus 50 years after the end of that calendar year.
When the term of the copyright protection ends or expires, the work falls into the public domain.
Any work in the public domain is accessible to the public, and everyone has an equal right to reproduce or republish the work.
Value added by copyright
Copyright protection may reward authors for their creative efforts because of the economic incentive it offers, to either license or sell the rights in their original works.
Brand images, jingles and promotional materials protected by copyright may help create a strong brand identity, distinguishing your goods and services from those of others in the marketplace and providing your business with a competitive edge.
Copyright could also help support your claim of ownership when you enforce your rights against counterfeit products or copycat brands.
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Using copyright strategically
Copyright can assist you in commercially benefiting from your works by:
- forbidding copies
- prohibiting the preparation of derivative works (e.g. translations, cinematic adaptations)
- preventing unauthorized distribution
- preventing public performances
- protecting your reputation
Make sure you own the work
The creator of an original work is normally the owner of the copyright. However, if the work is created in the course of employment, it is possible that the employer, rather than the employee, legally owns the copyright in the work.
Also, if you commission someone to create content for you, on a for-hire basis, that person may legally own the copyright in the work.
For this reason, it is good practice to have a written agreement that addresses issues of copyright ownership, if ownership of the copyright is important to you.
You should also consider moral rights when establishing agreements with creators. Even if you own the copyright, the moral rights remain with the creator unless they are waived.
Assign your copyright
Generally, copyright assignment occurs when a copyright holder transfers ownership of all or part of their right to another person or organization permanently.
You may decide to assign your work to benefit from the other person or party's reputation, resources and network, or to use the money to focus on other aspects of your innovation or business.
Licence your copyright
An alternative to assigning the entire copyright is to license your work in a limited capacity. This allows another person or party to use your work under certain conditions, while you retain the ownership.
Licensing your copyright allows you to generate income from your works. Many industries rely on this business model for services such as:
- software development
- video streaming services
- music streaming services
- photography stock websites
Copyright and other IP rights
In addition to copyright, certain aspects of your work may also be eligible for other types of IP protection.
For example, computer software is considered a literary work, and the copyright protection prevents unauthorized copy of your code. However, if your software adds new, non-obvious functionality to a computer system, you could consider obtaining a patent.
Another example is drawings, which are considered artistic works but could also be used as logos for a brand's products or services.
Businesses use logos to create brand identity and to set themselves apart from competitors with similar products and services. A logo may be registered as a trademark, even if the original pen and paper drawing is already benefiting from copyright.
A drawing depicting a novel design for a finished article may also be registered as an industrial design.
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Registering copyright in Canada
Benefits of registration
Remember: Copyright exists automatically when an original work is created.
However, there are benefits to registering your copyright in Canada, such as:
- Rights in court
- Notice to the public
If you plan on doing business in other countries, keep in mind that copyright protection depends on the national laws of the country where you are seeking protection.
Rights in court
A certificate of registration is evidence that copyright exists in your work and that you are the owner of the copyright.
However, keep in mind that this evidence may be challenged.
Notice to the public
If your copyright is registered, another party cannot claim that they were not aware and had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that your work was protected by copyright.
Search copyright databases
Before registering your copyright, you may wish to search the following databases to get an idea of the types of entries found in the Register of Copyrights:
Online in the Canadian Copyrights Database
Search for all Canadian copyright registered as of October 1991, free of charge, in the Canadian Copyrights Database.
In person at CIPO's Client Service Centre
Search for copyright registrations dating back to 1841, as well as copyright registered before 1991 that is not accessible online at the Client Service Centre.
Identifying the work
Each application for registration must be restricted to a single work identified by a title.
If the work is published in a series of books or parts, as in the case of an encyclopedia, a single application for the whole work is sufficient.
Do not include descriptive matter that does not constitute a part of the title.
What to include in your application for registration
A complete application for registration of copyright must include:
- the name and address of the owner(s)
- the name of the author(s) of the work
- the title of the single work
- the category of the work (artistic, literary, musical or dramatic)
- the date and place of the first publication, if applicable
It must also include a declaration confirming that the applicant is one of the following:
- the author of the work
- the owner of the copyright in the work
- an assignee of the copyright
- a person to whom an interest in the copyright has been granted by licence
For more information, consult the Preparing your application for registration section of the copyright guide.
Submit your application for registration
You can obtain a copyright registration by filing an application accompanied by the appropriate fees.
Send your completed application by mail to CIPO, or submit it online for a reduced fee.
You do not need to include a copy of your work with the application since CIPO does not review or assess works in any way. For this reason, copies of works are not accepted.
Once you obtain a copyright registration, no further fees are required to maintain it.
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Managing your copyright
Assignments and licences
For Canadian copyright, you may register any assignment or licence of your work(s) with CIPO.
You can submit the original agreement or a photocopy of it online or by mail, along with the prescribed fee for each work affected by the assignment or licence. CIPO will retain a copy of the documentation and return the original documentation, along with a certificate of registration.
Copyright infringement is a hot topic in the digital age, as the proliferation of digital technologies has made it incredibly easy to copy works.
Infringement occurs when a person uses content protected by copyright in a way that violates the exclusive rights granted in the Copyright Act.
Infringing acts may include copying a work without the copyright owner's permission, as well as importing, exporting, selling or renting out infringing copies of a work.
Only a court can rule whether infringement of copyright has occurred.
Remember: To help avoid infringement issues and litigation, a good rule of thumb is to always seek authorization before using someone else's work.
You could also search in the Register of Copyrights to find ownership information for registered copyright.
Fair dealing is an exception in the Copyright Act that outlines the permitted use of works protected by copyright for specific purposes without authorization, which includes:
- research and private study
- parody and satire
- criticism or review
- news reporting
For these purposes, the source and the author must be named to constitute fair dealing.
How to detect copyright infringement
Here are some tips for detecting copyright infringement:
- Search online for distinct parts of your literary works to see if they have been used without permission.
- Search online for images, using keywords that are related to your artistic works, such as photos and illustrations, to see if they have been used on websites and webpages.
- Set online alerts with keywords related to your works.
- Look out for suspicious accounts or users on social media websites or on multimedia streaming platforms.
Seek advice from an IP professional
It is your responsibility to make sure no one has copied or is using your work without your permission.
In case of suspected infringement, CIPO does not offer advice as to whether a particular act is acceptable or constitutes infringement. You must discuss such issues with an IP professional knowledgeable in IP law.
IP professionals can help you by:
- explaining copyright protection, exemptions and limitations
- representing you in cases of infringement
- determining if you are entitled to statutory damages ($) or any other form of remedies
- writing assignment and licensing agreements
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CIPO website – Copyright
Start with the copyright web page on the CIPO website. It contains a wealth of resources related to copyright protection in Canada.
Consult the copyright web page to learn more.
CIPO website – Hiring an IP professional
For more information on choosing and consulting an IP professional, as well as related costs, consult CIPO's resource on hiring an IP professional.
Copyright Board of Canada
The mandate of the Copyright Board of Canada is to set royalties that are fair and reasonable for both copyright owners and users of copyright-protected works, as well as to issue non-exclusive licences authorizing the fully legal use of works when the copyright owner cannot be located.
To learn more, consult the Copyright Board of Canada's web page.
World Intellectual Property Organization
WIPO has a resourceful section on copyright and provides an international angle to copyright protection.
Consult the WIPO web page on copyright to learn more.
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Thank you for completing the Copyright – Learn the basics online module!
The digital age, and specifically the internet, have changed the way people seek, obtain and publish creative content. Understanding how copyright works is essential for businesses and innovators to protect their original works, to commercially benefit from them and to enforce their rights in case of infringement.
To learn more on IP rights, check out the other online modules on patents, trademarks and industrial designs to see how they could also protect your innovation and support your business growth.
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