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Canadian Copyright Law
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Frequently Asked Questions about Copyrights:

  1. Copyright Basics
  2. Using Copyright Works
  3. Ownership of Copyright Works
  4. Duration of Copyright Protection
  5. New Media, Electronic Rights And The Internet
  6. International Copyright Law
  7. U.S. Copyright Law
  8. Copyright & Libraries
  9. Copyright and Photographers
  10. Copyright and Writers

  1. Copyright Basics
    1. WHAT IS COPYRIGHT?

    2. Copyright is the right of a creator of a work to prevent others from using his or her work without permission. A creator of a work has the exclusive right to say yes or no to various uses of a work such as reproducing it (e.g., photocopying and scanning it into a computer), adapting and translating it, transmitting it and performing it in public.

    3. IF THERE'S NO COPYRIGHT NOTICE, IS THE WORK PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT?

    4. Yes. Copyright protection is automatic upon the creation of a work. It is not necessary to register a work, mark it with the c in a circle, or deposit it in a copyright registry. However, there is a voluntary registration scheme through the Canadian Copyright Office where one can register a copyright work.

    5. IF A PHOTOGRAPH IS IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN AND HAS THE COPYRIGHT SYMBOL (THE "C" IN A CIRCLE), IS IT STILL PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT?

    6. In Canada, copyright protection is automatic upon the creation of a work. The copyright symbol is used to remind the public that copyright exists in the work and for protection in certain other countries. However, use of the symbol will not extend the duration of protection of a work in the public domain.

    7. IS AN APPLICATION FOR COPYRIGHT REGISTRATION EFFECTIVE AS SOON AS THE COPYRIGHT OFFICE RECEIVES IT?

    8. Although the registration process usually takes six to eight weeks, registration is effective when the application is accepted by the Copyright Office, whether at the time of filing or after any required amendments are made by the applicant. Keep in mind that copyright protection is automatic upon creation of a work in a fixed form, and registration is voluntary in Canada.

  2. Using Copyright Works
    1. IF A WORK IS REPRODUCED FOR NON-PROFIT, NON-COMMERCIAL PURPOSES, DO YOU NEED TO OBTAIN PERMISSION FROM THE COPYRIGHT HOLDER TO USE THE WORK?

    2. Permission must be obtained prior to using a substantial part of a copyright work, whether or not any income is derived from its use.

    3. ARE THERE MANY EXCEPTIONS IN THE CANADIAN ACT WHICH PERMIT FREE USES OF COPYRIGHT WORKS?

    4. Under Canadian copyright law, there are very few circumstances under which one can use copyright materials without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. There is no "fair use" provision as in the U.S. copyright law. There is a "fair dealing" provision but it has a very limited application. As a general rule, you need to obtain copyright permission before using a copyright work and permission can be obtained directly from the copyright owner or a representative such as a copyright collective like CANCOPY.

    5. ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS FOR SCHOOLS, LIBRARIES, ARCHIVES AND MUSEUMS?

    6. Yes, there are exceptions for these special interest groups which were introduced into the Canadian Copyright Act in copyright amendment Bill C-32.

  3. Ownership of Copyright Works
    1. WHO OWNS THE COPYRIGHT IN A COMMISSIONED WORK?

    2. The author of a commissioned work owns the copyright in it, subject to the following exceptions: one, there is an agreement to the contrary; two, the work being commissioned is an engraving, photograph or portrait and the person ordering the work has offered "valuable consideration'' such as money or services (in which case the person ordering it owns the copyright.)

  4. Duration of Copyright Protection
    1. FOR HOW LONG ARE COPYRIGHT WORKS PROTECTED?

    2. In Canada, the general rule is: life-plus-fifty -- life of the author and fifty years until the calendar year end of his or her death. For example, an author who dies on February 1, 1950 has copyright protection in her works until December 31, 2000. There are a number of exceptions to this rule and you should examine the exceptions to determine whether the general rule applies to your circumstances.

    3. WHAT DOES PUBLIC DOMAIN MEAN?

    4. Once copyright expires, the work is in the public domain and can be used without obtaining permission or paying a fee. Images, text and music in the public domain can be freely used, even in digital format.

  5. New Media, Electronic Rights And The Internet
    1. HOW DOES COPYRIGHT APPLY TO THE INTERNET?

    2. The same copyright rules which apply to all copyright works (e.g., books, graphics, software, CD- ROMS, records and films) apply to works found on the Internet.

    3. IF A MESSAGE WORK IS POSTED ON A LIST SERV, IS IT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN?

    4. No. Public domain means that the copyright in the work has expired. Generally, copyright lasts for fifty years after the death of the author of a copyright work. Some argue that posting a message, article or other copyright work to a list serv implicitly grants permission to everybody to copy that posting. If the copyright owner is to grant such permission, he or she should explicitly state in the posting that anyone may freely use the work without obtaining permission.

    5. IF A CD-ROM CONTAINS PUBLIC DOMAIN WORKS, IS THE CD-ROM PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT?

    6. The CD-ROM is a copyright work protected as a compilation. There are two copyrights in a compilation, one in the underlying works (in this case the public domain works), and one in the compilation itself. In this example, the CD-ROM would be protected, however the underlying works are in the public domain.

    7. WHO OWNS ELECTRONIC RIGHTS?

    8. The copyright owner owns all rights, subject to any transfers of rights. If you assign all your rights, then you are thereby assigning your electronic rights. However, if you license your print rights to a magazine, then you retain the electronic rights and can later transfer them for additional compensation.

    9. WHAT IS THE VALUE OF ELECTRONIC RIGHTS?

    10. Like all rights in copyright, there is no set fee in the Copyright Act for the use of electronic rights. Based on your circumstances (for e.g., the nature of your work, the exact use being made of it, your bargaining power), you must negotiate a fee you think is fair taking into account all of the circumstances.

  6. International Copyright Law
    1. IS THERE AN INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT LAW TO DEAL WITH COPYRIGHT ISSUES ON THE INTERNET?

    2. No, domestic copyright laws apply to the Internet. For instance, if a work is used in Canada from the Internet, then Canadian law applies. If used in Australia, then Australian law applies. The problem, however, with Internet usage, is that we are unsure as to where a work is actually "used" -- this is currently being discussed in court cases and by governments and legislators around the world.

  7. U.S. Copyright Law
    1. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CANADIAN AND U.S. COPYRIGHT LAW AND WHEN DOES EACH LAW APPLY?

    2. Most copyright laws around the world are based on the same principles of balancing the rights of protecting creators and providing reasonable access to users/consumers of copyright materials. However, each country must determine the balance it achieves in its own copyright legislation. In many circumstances, Canadian copyright law is more protective of creators whereas the U.S. law provides more free uses for users of copyright materials. The applicable law is the one where the copyright work is being used. (For more information, see Chapters 5 and 15, Canadian Copyright Law.)

  8. Copyright & Libraries
    1. A PUBLIC LIBRARY ASKS WHETHER THE LIBRARY CAN SELL 16MM FILMS PURCHASED SOME TIME AGO WITH PUBLIC PERFORMANCE RIGHTS AND WHAT THE COPYRIGHT IMPLICATIONS ARE.

    2. The library can sell the "physical" copies of the films, however unless the library owns the copyright and has the right to transfer the right to perform the films in public, the purchaser of the films will only have the right to use the films in private. Selling the physical copies of the films is not covered by copyright law, only copying, showing in public, broadcasting, transmitting over the Internet, and similar rights are covered by copyright law.

  9. Copyright and Photographers
    1. IS THERE A SEPARATE COPYRIGHT IN A DIGITIZED PHOTOGRAPH?

    2. Under Canadian law, there would be a copyright in the original photograph as well as in the digital version of the photograph. The U.S. law is not clear on this same fact situation.

  10. Copyright and Writers
    1. IF A WRITER SUBMITS A TREATMENT OR FINISHED SCRIPT TO A FILM STUDIO AND THE STUDIO LIKES THE IDEA BUT NOT THE WRITING SKILL OR STYLE, CAN THE STUDIO THEN GO AND HIRE ANOTHER WRITER TO WRITE THE SAME STORY?

    2. There is no copyright protection in ideas, including the idea for a film script. What is protected is the actual words used to express that idea. Anyone may write a script or other work based on the same idea. However, when you submit an idea in the form of a treatment or script, you are generally doing so on a confidential basis and it is understood that the studio will not take your idea without your permission and payment to you. However, since few ideas are original, it is difficult to prove that a specific idea has been obtained from a single treatment or script.

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