Canadian Copyright Act – Overview

Canadian Copyright law protects creative endeavours by ensuring that the creator has the sole right to authorize their publication, performance or reproduction (section 3(1)). Copyright applies to all original:

  • literary or textual works: books, pamphlets, poems, computer programs
  • dramatic works: films, videos, plays, screenplays and scripts
  • musical works: compositions consisting of both words and music, or music only (lyrics without music are considered literary works)
  • artistic works: paintings, drawings, maps, photographs, and sculptures
  • architectural works

Copyright also applies to three other kinds of subject matter: performer’s performances (section 15); broadcast communication signals (section 21); and sound recordings such as records, cassettes and CDs (section 18).

Protection under copyright laws is automatic in Canada: as soon as an original work has been written down, recorded or entered as a computer file, it is immediately copyright-protected. A certificate of registration of copyright is also recommended, as evidence that the copyright is registered to the owner (section 53 (2)). International treaties also protect Canadian copyrights in most foreign countries.

In this country, copyright protects intellectual property rather than physical property: the text of a novel or a song, rather than the actually book or paper it’s printed on. Copyright entitlement legally ends at a certain point: generally, it endures for the lifetime of the creator, the remainder of the calendar year in which the creator dies, and for 50 years after the end of that calendar year.

However, under its “fair dealing” provisions, the Copyright Act does allow individuals or organizations to use original works without such use being considered an infringement: criticism and review, news reporting, and private study or research (section 29). The Act also exempts certain categories of users, such as non-profit educational institutions (section 29.4).

As well, the Copyright Act empowers the Copyright Board of Canada, an economic regulatory body that establishes the royalties to be paid for the use of copyrighted works (section 66). The Board has the right to supervise agreements between users and licensing bodies, and issue licences when the copyright owner cannot be located.

The administration of such copyrights is entrusted to a collective administrative society (section 67). A collective society is an organization that administers the rights of several copyright owners, grants permission to use their works, and sets conditions. Collective administration is widespread in Canada, particularly for the rights to musical performances, reprography rights and mechanical reproduction.

Other government organizations are also involved in the administration of copyright. The Copyright Policy Branch, in the department of Canadian Heritage, works with the Intellectual Property Policy Directorate of Industry Canada. It liaises with stakeholders and interest group to keep copyright policies up to date — addressing, for instance, new developments in technology, such as the Internet.

The law of copyright also applies to the Internet, and so most individual works found there are protected: using Internet text or graphics without the permission of the copyright holder, for instance, is an infringement of copyright law.

However, one grey area of the legislation is the issue of “streaming” broadcast programming over the Internet. To address these concerns about Internet retransmission, the Canadian government proposed Bill C-48 in December 2001.

Full Text: Copyright Act