Copyright Q & A

Many companies want some basic guidance on copyright. This discussion provides some practical tips and information on copyright in Canada.

Q. What is copyright?

Copyright is at its most basic level the “right to make copies”. It was originally developed to give writers and artists a measure of control over who can rightfully copy their works.  Copyright protects original creations such as books, music, images, photographs, and has evolved to provide protection for software, layout and design of websites, broadcasts and performances.  Copyright is a function of the law set out in the Copyright Act and in the court decisions which interpret that Act.

Q. How is copyright created?

Someone who creates an original work automatically enjoys copyright protection in that work by virtue of the Copyright Act.  For copyright to subsist, the work must be original and it must be reduced to a fixed form (for example, copyright does not protect mere ideas which are not expressed in writing). 

Q. Do I need to register copyright and if so, how do I do that?

Technically, you do not need to register copyright in order to enjoy the protections under the Copyright Act.  However, you can benefit from registration because a registration entitles the copyright owner to the benefit of certain presumptions.  In other words, you are presumed to be the owner of a work in which you have a copyright registration without having to prove that you were the author of the work.  Whereas, without a registration, you would have to prove authorship and ownership of that work in the event of any dispute.  Copyright registration is easy to do (relative to patents or trade-marks, for example).  The Canadian Intellectual Property Office provides more detailed guidance on that process.

Q. What can I do if someone else uses my copyrighted works without my permission? 

When someone else uses works in which you enjoy copyright protection and they don’t have your permission, this is what we call copyright infringement.  There are a number of exceptions in the Copyright Act which permit copying under certain circumstances, but if those exceptions are inapplicable, then you may be able to sue the infringer to prevent the unauthorized copying.  The Copyright Act permits copyright holders to collect statutory damages of up to $20,000 in certain cases where infringement can be shown.

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