Canada’s Copyright Act protects any original work as soon as it is "fixed in any material form." The legislation protects the expression of an idea but not the idea itself.
Under the Copyright Act, authors are the first owners of copyright in their works unless the author created the content as an employee. Authors can exercise their rights themselves, assign their rights or appoint a representative such as an agent, distributor or copyright collective to exercise the rights on their behalf.
Those rights, which are often called patrimonial rights, make it possible for the copyright owner (i.e. author or representative) to determine how their content will be used. Thanks to those rights, copyright owners are able to earn income – generally in the form of royalties – so they can continue their creative work and distribute their works.
The Copyright Act also states that the author of a copyright-protected work has moral rights. Those rights allow the author to be acknowledged as the creator of the work or to remain anonymous. Authors can also preserve the integrity of their work against any use that could be prejudicial to the author’s honour or reputation.
As a result, bibliographic references for the work, including the author’s name, if known, must be indicated. In addition, the work cannot be distorted, mutilated or otherwise modified or used in association with a product, service, cause or institution in a way that could be prejudicial to the author’s honour or reputation.
In general, works are protected under the Copyright Act during the author’s lifetime and for another 50 years after the end of the calendar year of the author’s death. After that period ends, the work comes into the public domain and can be used by anyone without permission.
However, a recent translation or adaptation of a work in the public domain is protected by copyright for 50 years after the death of the translator or adapter. For example, even though Shakespeare’s works are in the public domain, a recent translation or adaptation of any of those works would be protected by copyright.
Specific rules apply to certain categories of works whose copyright terms are different than the general rule:
- Certain cinematographic works
- Sound recordings
- Performer’s performances
- Communication signals
- Works protected by Crown rights
- Works of joint authorship
- Posthumous works
- Anonymous works and works under a pseudonym
For more detailed information, please refer to the Copyright Act.
Copyright terms vary from country to country. It’s important to understand that the copyright term is determined by the legislation in effect in the country where the work is being used, not the legislation in the author’s country of origin. In Canada, foreign works are therefore protected for the term specified in the Canadian Copyright Act, in compliance with the principle of national treatment under the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. If the work is being used in multiple countries, be aware of any differences in each country’s legislation.
Canada has been a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) since 1970. It has also signed various international intellectual property treaties such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886) which lays down the guiding principles for international copyright protection.
To learn more about copyright:
- Copyright Board of Canada
- Canadian Intellectual Property Office
- World Intellectual Property Organization
- Judgment CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada,  1 SCR 339
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