What is copyright ? For the sake of keeping this introduction to copyright as straightforward as possible, let us begin by looking at copyright at its simplest: subject to certain exceptions, the author is the sole owner of their work.

This means that the author holds the exclusive right to produce, reproduce, perform, communicate, publish, adapt, and modify their work in whole or an important part. These rights are the Economic rights of copyright. Economic rights are divisible. They can be licensed (i.e.: rented), or assigned (i.e.: sold).

Copyright also serves to protect artistic integrity, such as the right to attribution, integrity and association: these are the Moral rights of copyright. [FYI, moral rights cannot be assigned, although the author can waive them].

In other words, copyright is twofold: economic rights on one hand, moral rights on the other.

You created something: now you want to use your copyright. What must you do to secure it ?

Technically, nothing.

That is one of the beauties of copyright: it is easily acquired. In fact, the Copyright Act only requires the following three conditions:

(a) The work must be original

** Not “original” in the sense of “Wow-that’s-so-original!”, but “original” in the sense given by Law and jurisprudence: a work made by the author’s own skill and judgment.

The work must result from the author’s own intellectual effort.

In other words, originality has nothing to do with notions of beauty, aesthetics or complexity: both a cathedral fresco and a psychology questionnaire can be copyrighted.

(b) The work must be fixed

Be it written on a score, recorded on an iPhone, or scribbled in a travel journal, the work must be fixed in a material form. Ideas are not protectable; their expressions are.

(c) The author must have been, at the time they created the work, a citizen, subject or resident of Canada, or of a treaty country

A treaty country is defined in the Copyright Act as “a Berne Convention country, UCC country, WCT country or WTO Member.”

No additional formalities are required for copyright protection; if the above requirements are met, your work is copyrighted.

Sure, the good old tricks of registering with the Intellectual Property Office and mailing the work to yourself in a sealed envelope can be useful as evidence, but no administrative rubber stamp can replace the above three conditions.

How long does copyright last?

As of now, and unless otherwise specified by Law, copyright in Canada lasts for the life of the author plus an additional fifty years after their death. The term of copyright varies from country to country – in the United States, for instance, the term is 70 years following the author’s death, barring some exceptions. That said, for the sake of fairness and reciprocity, International law dictates that the work of a Canadian citizen will have the same term of protection in the United States as it would have in Canada.

* An important note: although the legal term of copyright is 50 years, if an author assigns their rights to a third party, these rights are reverted back to their successors 25 years after their death. In other words, if an author assigned their rights to a publisher for the full legal term of copyright (until 50 years following their death), heirs can ask to have these rights returned to them 25 years after the author’s death.

[The Copyright Act also provides rights to other people, such as the maker’s rights in the sound recordings and the performer’s rights in their performances. More on these here].

[Translated by Emily Alberton / Photo credit: Juan Di Nella]

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