Basics of Copyrights
- What is a copyright?
The purpose of a copyright is to protect owners of creative works such as music, poetry, literature and art while inspiring creativity and continuous production of such works regardless of their commercial value. A copyright, in its essence, is an exclusive right to reproduce a substantial part of or all of a work.
- What is the difference between a copyright and other intellectual property protections?
Copyright provides protection for creative and artistic works such as movies, music, literature, or art, as well as other creative subject matter. Patents, in contrast, protect innovations and improvements to past innovations, and trademarks protect brand names and symbols in commerce.
- What types of works are protected by copyright?
All types of creative works are protected by copyright, such as music, movies, literature, poetry, computer programs, art, performances and communication signals.
- What rights does copyright protection provide?
Copyright protection provides an exclusive right to the reproduction and distribution of the copyrighted work, and the right to permit others to purchase or distribute the work as necessary. It also provides the owner with the right to legally challenge those who have misused their work, or have used it without permission.
- When does copyright start? Do I have to register with the government to obtain a copyright?
No. You are automatically considered the owner of a copyright upon production of your work, provided that the conditions of the Copyright Act have been met.
- What are the benefits of copyright registration?
Registering your copyright with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), entitles you to receipt of a registration certificate that constitutes official proof of ownership and evidence that the copyright exists.
- Who owns the copyright?
By default, the individual who produced the work is the owner of the copyright, unless they do so while employed by an individual or company to create this work, in which case their employer is considered the owner for legal purposes. A transfer of ownership may also be made.
- When I purchase a product, do I get a copyright in the work?
No, purchasing a product does not give you ownership of copyright but rather a licence to use the work.
- How long does copyright last?
Copyright protections last for the duration of the lifetime of the author, and for 50 years from the calendar year of their death. There are exceptions for some types of works, but the provision is applicable for most. In cases of works with joint authorship, copyright lasts for 50 years from the calendar year of death of the last author.
- Are there any limitations to copyright?
Facts and ideas are not eligible for copyright, as well as anything that has already been placed into the public domain. By and large, copyright registration is limited to creative works.
- What is licensing?
Licensing is the process by which you give permission to another entity to copy and/or disseminate your copyrighted work. You may also officially register a licence with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).
- What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is the unlawful replication of another individual's copyrighted work without their permission and claiming that work or idea as one's own.
- If I pay someone to create something for me, do I own the copyright to the work?
You will typically have a licence to use the work. To secure ownership, you will want a contract with the creator of the work that includes an assignment of ownership in the work.
- Do I own the copyright for works I create in the course of my job?
Although this is determined on a case-by-case basis, generally you do not, especially if you are employed full-time and not on contract. You will want to evaluate the contract you sign at the beginning of your employment and negotiate any intellectual property provisions if you want to retain ownership of copyright in your work.
- How do you figure out if something is in the public domain?
A work is in the public domain if the copyright registration on it has expired or if it fails to meet the requirements for copyright to subsist in the work.
- Does posting something on the Internet brand it as public domain?
No. Posting a work on the Internet, provided it meets the conditions for copyright to subsist as found in the Copyright Act, does not put the work in the public domain. Having your copyright registered with CIPO could help you with enforcing your rights if your work is infringed after being published on the Internet.
- Does public release, disclosure or dissemination mean the same thing as public domain?
No. Publicly releasing, disclosing, or disseminating the contents of your work, provided that it meets the conditions of the Copyright Act, does not place it within the public domain.
- How do you find out who owns a copyright?
In order to find out who owns a copyright, if that is not specified within the work that you are inquiring about, you may browse the records of copyright registrations in your country (or in other countries, if applicable) to determine whether there has been a copyright placed on the work and whether it is still in force. However, since copyright can subsist in works that have not been registered, such a search may fail to identify the owner.
- Can the same work have multiple copyright dates?
A work may have multiple copyright dates if it is a derivative work of another copyrighted work, or a work altered substantially but made on the basis of a work to which it is giving attribution by citing its copyright.
- When do you give attribution?
Attribution needs to be given if you are using a copyrighted product or work where the copyright has not yet expired. Proper attribution involves identifying the author and providing information/a link to the source, as well as identifying the title of the work, its licence deed, if applicable, and any modifications you may have made.
- Can I copyright my website?
Yes. The content of a website may be considered a creative work if original.
- What is a "poor man's copyright"?
The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself with a date stamp is sometimes referred to as a "poor man's copyright". However, there are no official protections for such an action, and it is not a substitute for a copyright registration.
Registering Your Copyright
- How do I go about registering my copyright?
An application for registration must be submitted with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) if you wish to obtain an official registration. We apply for Canadian copyright registrations as a service and the entire application process through to registration is typically covered by one flat fee.
- How long does registration take?
Copyright registration times vary depending on the country. In Canada, we often receive a copyright registration in less than a month from the date of application. In other countries, it can take around a year from the time of filing for copyright registration to be obtained.
- What are the costs of copyright registration?
A registration in Canada generally entails a fee of $50 when submitted to CIPO online, and a fee of $65 for all other cases. Please refer to a detailed fee schedule here for more information on costs.
- Who owns the copyright in a joint work?
In a joint work, all authors are considered to have equal standing for copyright registration and all become copyright holders.
- Can two or more authors provide contributions to a single work without being considered joint authors for copyright purposes?
Yes, if the other author has contributed to the work in a limited sense (i.e. a short introduction to a book written by another author), they may not receive equal joint rights.
- What is Preregistration?
A preregistration is a means to have a certain degree of copyright ownership over a work that has not yet been completed or published that is available in certain jurisdictions such as the United States. It is not a substitute for registration, and must be an unpublished work that is in the process of being prepared for commercial publication. This can be an effective measure if you believe that your work has a chance of being infringed even before mass publication and dissemination.
- Should you register copyright in your software?
If the software is your original creation and meets the requirements of the Copyright Act, and you believe that you may need to defend it in court against infringement or otherwise need legal proof of your ownership, it may be worth it to apply for official copyright registration.
- What is a copyright assignment?
A copyright assignment is an agreement to transfer, and often to sell, your copyright to another individual or entity. Unlike a licence, you lose your control over how the copyrighted work is used and the ability to claim your exclusive ownership back after a period of time.
- Can a minor claim copyright?
A minor may claim copyright and obtain an official registration, if necessary. Using the copyright in business dealings may be restricted depending on the jurisdiction in question.
- Is there a copyright registry/depositary?
Yes. An online database of registered copyrights is made available for copyrights registered in Canada by CIPO.
- Do I have to renew my copyright?
No, copyright registrations do not need to be renewed.
- How do I indicate that my work is copyrighted?
You can indicate copyright by putting a copyright symbol (©) next to the title of your work.
- Do I need to mark my work with the copyright symbol?
No. A copyright symbol is not mandatory to indicate copyright, and is an additional protection to show others the value to which you hold your work.
- How are copyright royalties given?
The royalties for copyright are separate from copyright registration as an intellectual property asset, and are determined between you and the company that publishes or disseminates your work.
- Who enforces copyright protections?
If your copyright has been infringed, you may bring the case to the Federal Court or a provincial Superior Court. CIPO, however, is not responsible for monitoring and enforcing lawful use of your copyrighted work; that responsibility falls on you as the owner.
- What rights do copyright owners have under the Copyright Act?
The Copyright Act grants copyright owners the sole and exclusive right to create or recreate a work, and an exclusive right to ownership. If applicable, it also gives rights to publish the work, perform it in public, to translate and disseminate translation of the work, to convert it between artistic mediums (exceptions apply), to present the work by telecommunication or other means of exhibition, and to rent out the work if applicable.
- What is Fair Use? Does it allow me to take someone else's copyrighted work without permission?
Fair use is a U.S. term and the corresponding term in Canada is fair dealing. It means that, in certain cases, a copyrighted work can be used without permission of the owner to a limited degree, for certain purposes such as commenting on, criticizing, or parodying a copyrighted work. While fair use or fair dealing allows for limited use of the copyrighted work, it does not condone full replication of it.
- What can I do if someone is using my copyrighted work without permission?
If you believe that your copyright has been infringed, you may initiate a civil lawsuit in the Federal Court or a provincial Superior Court in order to get the infringer to cease their infringing activities and potentially be ordered by the court to pay you monetary damages. As a preliminary step before litigation, a demand letter or cease and desist letter is usually sent to the infringer.
- I've been caught using someone else's copyrighted work without permission. What can I do?
In such a situation, it is best to contact a lawyer to get your situation assessed in detail and figure out an appropriate course of action. If this is a situation you have found yourself in, feel free to contact one of our lawyers for a complimentary telephone consultation.
- What is derivative work? Can I make something new out of someone else's copyrighted work?
A work is considered derivative when it is based on a copyrighted work, but is original enough in its content and adds enough novelty to the original work that it is considered worthy of copyright protection in itself. Some examples would be a chapter regarding new events added to a history textbook, or the translation of a book into another language.
- Can you transfer your copyright to someone else or rescind it completely?
Yes. A copyright may be transferred via a written agreement, and such an agreement can be registered with CIPO to give the new owner the same degree of legal validity. It may also be transferred upon death as part of a will.
Copyrights in Different Jurisdictions
- Can you register a copyright if you are not a citizen/resident of the jurisdiction you're registering in?
Through international provisions outlined in the Berne Convention, your work is automatically subject to copyright upon creation in all signatory countries. Copyright registration is voluntary in some countries and needs to be checked for availability by jurisdiction. Copyright laws in countries that are not signatories to the Berne Convention need to also be checked on a case-by-case basis.
- What is the Berne Convention?
The Berne Convention is an international agreement dating back to 1886 dealing with copyright protections for authors and creators. It outlines three basic principles and contains a series of provisions for minimum protection to be granted in this international framework. The WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), adopted under the Berne Convention, provides additional economic rights to copyright holders internationally. It has 94 contracting parties, including Canada and the United States.