The Copyright Act is complex and contains many subtleties. In principle, you own the rights to any content or original document if you are the author and it is "fixed in any material form". But what happens if the content was created as part of your job?
Your employer owns the patrimonial rights
Under the Act, unless otherwise specified, your employer owns the patrimonial rights for content that you created while doing your job. The employer is the only party who has the authority to sell, publish, distribute, reproduce and adapt the content that you create. Your employer is also the only party who can claim royalties for the use of that content.
You retain your moral rights
Moral rights include the right to be acknowledged as the creator of the content, the right to remain anonymous and the right to preserve the integrity of the work.
Authors always retain the moral rights to their content even if it was created as part of their job. Those moral rights cannot be assigned to the employer. However, it’s possible to refrain from exercising them by adding a clause in your contract.
What if you’re not sure about your rights to the content you create? Start by reviewing your employment contract, your employer’s policies or your union agreement. If there are no clauses about copyright, the provisions of the Copyright Act explained here will take precedence.
Was the content created as part of your job?
The first step is to determine whether you’re an employee. This distinction is very important. If an employment relationship exists and the content was created as part of that employment, the employer owns the patrimonial rights.
What’s your status?
According to the Copyright Act, an employee is a person in the employment of another person under a contract of service or apprenticeship. Typically, that means an employment contract.
In contrast, if you create content for an organization but you’re a freelancer or are self-employed, that organization will not own the rights to the content. Similarly, if you do volunteer work, that organization cannot own the copyright on the content because you’re not a member of its personnel.
Freelancers, self-employed individuals and volunteers retain complete ownership of their rights because they’re not employees. Their rights can be assigned only if a relevant provision is included in their contract with the organization.
It may seem obvious but it’s important to point out that even if you’re an employee, your personal projects created on your own time belong to you.
However, if you create content on topics related to or inspired by your work as an employee, the dividing line between personal and professional projects may become blurred. In that case, it would be useful to discuss it with your employer or even draw up a written agreement.
What if you don’t have a contract?
Even though the general rule is that the author is the first owner of the copyright, be sure to consult a lawyer so you can make sure your rights are respected.
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