Copyright: The Basics

WHY. Why copyright?

Copyright is a complex system with simple goals. It’s the system we use to promote the creation of art, music, books, plays, films, etc. – all the creative products that enrich our cultural life. Ideally, this system strikes a balance between fostering the public interest in the creation and circulation of cultural products, and ensuring compensation for the creators of those products.

Every country has its own Copyright Act. Canadaʼs is here.  For excerpts download our Copyirght Act handout here. 

Copyright is the means through which artists control their creations.

WHO. Who holds copyright?

You - the creator, artist, painter, photographer, musician, writer, remixer. However, artists can give away or sell the copyright to their work.

[Martha is hoping you can create a graphic of someone giving away something, passing something, showing transaction: image of play w/ word “play” -> producer -> picture of TV network/distributor]

WHAT. What is copyright?

Copyright is how an artist or creator of a work controls the  production, reproduction, publication, communication, translation and adaptation of their work.

A photograph, a film, a novel, a painting – as soon as the idea for the work becomes fixed in some form, copyirght exists and belongs to the creator. .The idea for the photograph, film, novel, or painting is not.  Whta's the difference?

A writer and restaurant owner states that James Cameron took his idea for a film about native people and the environment.  In an interview he says that Camercon took his "concept."  His concept is not something he can claim the copyright to the screenplay is. 

But is it original?

Original does not mean unique or one of a kind.  It means original with the craetor/athor of the work. 
There are four criteria that work must meet in order to be copyrightable in Canada:

  1. It must be original.
  2. It must be in some fixed or tangible form.
  3. It must fall under one of the four main groupings of works outlined in the Copyright Act:
  4. There must be a connection between the creator of the work and Canada.

The Copyright Act outlines exclusive rights in section 3.10 (at the top of the page). Execrpt of the Act here: literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic


DickensHOW. How do you obtain copyright for your work?

In Canada, copyright is automatic. The minute you hit save on that novel, that the shutter clicks on your camera, or your work is somehow fixed in a medium, it is copyrighted.

While copyright is automatic, you can register your copyright through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. An online registration form can be found here.

Registration is useful because marking one’s work with a copyright or Creative Commons mark (and in the latter case, spelling out what users may do with material), lets others know that there exists a right or claim.


WHEN. How long does Copyright last?

Copyright lasts death plus 50 years

In Canada, copyright lasts for 50 years after the death of the author. The only exception to this is with photography.

Copyright law is different in every country. In the United States, copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the author.

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