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Copyright Law Resources

What's the purpose of copyright law protection?

The purpose of copyright law is to provide protection for original expression, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. The effect of copyright law protection provides copyright owners with the exclusive right for a limited duration to copy or reproduce the work. For example, a poem, painting, musical score, performer's performance, computer program could be protected by copyright, regardless of their artistic merit or commercial value, provided the conditions set out in the Copyright Act have been met. This means that if you own the copyright to a poem, song, or other work, you have rights that are protected under the Copyright Act.

In other words, the Copyright Act prohibits others from copying your work without your permission. Its purpose, like that of other pieces of intellectual property legislation, is to protect copyright owners while promoting creativity and the orderly exchange of ideas.

What are the requirements for copyright law protection?

In order to qualify for copyright protection, the work must be original.  Originality under copyright law requires an exercise of skill and judgement that is not merely a mechanical exercise.  Also, it must be original to its author, not copied from another work. In the case of CCH v. Law Society of Upper Canada, [2004] 1 S.C.R. 339 the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that the "exercise of skill and judgment" was necessary in order for an expression to attract copyright protection under Canadian copyright law.

Furthermore, the work must be fixed in some material form. A work "must be expressed to some extent at least in some material form, capable of identification and having a more or less permanent endurance" to be subject to Canadian copyright protection.

If you are unsure whether a work (e.g., compilation work, database, derivative work) qualifies for copyright protection, you should consult a copyright lawyer.

How is copyright created?

Copyright arises automatically in an original work as soon as the work is created or fixed. Unlike patent or industrial design or some other form of intellectual property, it is not mandatory to formally register copyright with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office for copyright to subsist. However, copyright may be formally registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

Registering copyright may provide certain benefits. For example, the Copyright Act provides that a certificate of registration of copyright is evidence that copyright exists and that the person registered is the owner of the copyright. However, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office generally does not conduct any search with respect to the legitimacy of ownership or the originality of a work being registered. Registration of copyright may also be useful when selling or licensing the work, or for litigation purposes. 

How long does copyright last?

Generally speaking, copyright in Canada lasts the life of the author plus 50 years following the end of the calendar year in which the author dies (i.e., the "life plus 50" rule).  By contrast, in some other countries, copyright may lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

If there are two or more authors to a work, copyright duration is calculated based on the life of the author who dies last.

After copyright expires, a work becomes part of the public domain and may be freely copied and distributed.

In Canada, federal and provincial government documents are under crown copyright. Duration of crown copyright is 50 years after the calendar year of first publication.

if you are unsure whether or not copyright of a work has expired in Canada, you should consult a copyright lawyer.

What is the interrelationship between copyright law and industrial design law in Canada?

In Canada, if a design is applied to a useful article and the article is reproduced in a quantity of more than 50, then the copyright in the design becomes unenforceable.  In this case, protection for the design of the useful article has to be through registration of the design under the Industrial Design Act.

However, this does not apply to
  •  a graphic or photographic representation that is applied to the face of an article;

  • a trade-mark or a representation thereof or a label;

  • material that has a woven or knitted pattern or that is suitable for piece goods or surface coverings or for making wearing apparel;

  • an architectural work that is a building or a model of a building;

  • a representation of a real or fictitious being, event or place that is applied to an article as a feature of shape, configuration, pattern or ornament;

  • articles that are sold as a set, unless more than fifty sets are made.

See section 64 of the Copyright Act.