Copyright provisions in contracts

Copyright provisions in contracts

A text by Grégory Lancop, a lawyer specializing in business law

In this third article of our series on contracts, we discuss various ways that copyright can be covered in contractual agreements.



  1. Copyright clauses in contracts
  2. Contracts pertaining mainly to copyright


1. Copyright clauses in contracts

In this case, even though copyright isn’t the main purpose of the agreement, copyright provisions are included because they may impact the parties involved. 

Contracts often contain copyright clauses, especially when an individual or company is providing a service. 

Here are two scenarios: 


1a Event photos

You hire a freelance photographer to cover a corporate event. 

Your contract could include a clause relating to one or more specific rights. 

The freelance photographer could retain the copyright for the images and give you the right to use them according to clearly defined conditions. 

For example, you would have the right to distribute the photos for specific purposes:

  • Public use on the corporate website
  • Private use on a password-protected intranet intended only for personnel


1b Promotional material

You hire an outside videographer to shoot and edit a video for your advertising campaign.

Your contract could include the following clauses:

  • Entire copyright in the videographer’s creation is assigned to you
  • Videographer waives the use of their moral rights

If those clauses are NOT included, the freelance professional you hired remains the owner of the copyright in that content. 

If you don’t own the video’s copyright, you may be limited in what you can do with it.

For instance, the videographer may prevent you from using the content they created. And if the freelancer hasn’t waived their moral rights, they can also prevent you from making changes to the video for other campaigns. 


Did you know?

Content creators are automatically designated the owners of their copyright-protected work, except in certain situations. 

If the content creator is an employee, their employer owns the copyright. 

For content created at work, only the employer has the authority to sell, publish, distribute, reproduce and adapt the relevant content.

Read more: Copyright in a business context


2. Contracts pertaining mainly to copyright

Now let’s take a look at two types of contracts drafted specifically to cover copyright.


2a Copyright assignment

This type of contract enables the copyright owners to assign the entire copyright to an individual or business. 

The contract is drafted in the normal way and usually contains the provisions discussed in the second article in this series: What to put in a contract.

Important! The Act states that “moral rights may not be assigned.” Therefore, no assignment of moral rights is possible.

However, copyright owners can waive their moral rights in a work.


2b Copyright licence

The purpose of this type of contract is to grant an interest in the copyright (licensing). 

The copyright owners could agree to sell you the right to use the content in a specific situation defined in the licence. An example would be to use the photos for commercial purposes. 

You could also be given the right to do a public reading of an excerpt from a published work during an event. Before the event, you’d have to agree on the details such as compensation or the payment of copyright royalties. 

Details likely to be covered in licensing contracts: 

  • Title of the work
  • Rightsholders (author and publisher)
  • Precise portion that will be read, including page numbers from the book
  • Number of people in attendance
  • Type of event
  • Royalty amount


Of course, for help in drafting this type of licensing agreement with copyright owners, you could turn to a copyright collective such as Copibec! 


Grégory Lancop is a lawyer specializing mainly in business law. He is also interested in intellectual property law, having written his master’s thesis on fair dealing in Canadian copyright law.

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