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Copyright law of Canada

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Copyright law of Canada

The copyright law of Canada governs the legally enforceable rights to creative and artistic works under the laws of Canada. Canada passed its first colonial copyright statute in 1832 but was subject to imperial copyright law established by Britain until 1921. Current copyright law was established by the Copyright Act of Canada which was first passed in 1921 and substantially amended in 1988, 1997 and 2012. All powers to legislate copyright law are in the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada by virtue of section 91(23) of the Constitution Act 1867.


Colonial copyright law

It is unclear to what extent British copyright law, or imperial law, starting with the 1709 Statute of Anne, applied to its colonies (including Canada),[1] but the House of Lords had ruled in 1774, in Donaldson v Beckett, that copyright was a creation of statute and could be limited in its duration. The first Canadian colonial copyright statute was the Copyright Act, 1832, passed by the Parliament of the Province of Lower Canada, granting copyright to residents of the province. The 1832 Act was short, and declared ambitions to encourage emergence of a literary and artistic nation and to encourage literature, bookshops and the local press. After the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) were reunified to form the Province of Canada, the 1832 Act was repealed and with minor changes enacted as the Copyright Act, 1841.[2]

The 1841 Act only granted copyright in books, maps, charts, musical compositions, prints, cuts and engravings. Copyright was only awarded if it was registered and a copy of the work deposited in the office of the registrar of the province before publication. The author or creator was required to be resident in the province in order to obtain copyright under the Act, though the Act was unclear on whether the work needed to have been first published in the Province. The objective of the colonial copyright statutes was to encourage the printing of books in Canada, though this was not made explicit to avoid conflict with imperial copyright law, which was primarily designed to protect English publishers. Britain forcefully demanded guarantees that British and Irish subjects were eligible for protection under Canadian colonial copyright law in the same way residents of the Canadian colony were.[3]

One year after Canada passed the 1841 Act, the UK Parliament passed the Copyright Act 1842. The statute explicitly applied to “all Parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, all Parts of the East and West India, and all the Colonies, Settlements, and Possessions of the Crown which now are or thereafter may be acquired”. Any book published in London would therefore be protected by copyright law in the entire British Empire, including Canada.[2] The 1842 Act had an immediate impact on Canada and became infamous because it effectively prohibited the importation and sale of reprints of any book under British copyright printed in other countries. Previously Canada had mostly imported books from the United States, but it was now unlawful for Canadian merchants to engage in this trade. Instead merchants were required to import books under British copyright from printers in Britain, though British market prices were unaffordable for most residents of Canada. As British publishers systematically refused to license books for printing to Canadian printers, the Canadian Government questioned the responsible self-government arrangement.[4] In a provocative move Canada passed An Act to extend the Provincial Copyright Act to Persons Resident in the United Kingdom in 1847, granting British authors protection only if their works had been printed and published in the Province of Canada. The 1841 and 1847 statutes were subject to minor revision in 1859 and the requirement for the works to be printed in Canada, buried in the text, was later noticed and denounced by the imperial British Government.[3]

Article published in The New York Times June 1897 - "Music Pirates in Canada: American Publishers Say They Are Suffering by Copyright Violations There – Steps Taken for Redress. "Canadian pirates” is what the music dealers call publishing houses across the line who are flooding this country, they say, with spurious editions of the latest copyrighted popular songs. They use the mails to reach purchasers, so members of the American Music Publishers’ Association assert, and as a result the legitimate music publishing business of the United States has fallen off 50 per cent in the past twelve months.”


Upon Confederation, the British North America Act, 1867 granted the Federal Government power to legislate on matters such as copyright and patents. In 1868 the Parliament of Canada passed the Copyright Act of 1868,[5] which granted protection for "any person resident in Canada, or any person being a British subject, and resident in Great Britain or Ireland."[6] It re-established the publication requirements of the 1847 statute, prompting demand from the British Government that Canada should revise its laws so as to respect imperial copyright law.[7] Under Imperial copyright London printers had a monopoly and attracted most authors from the colonies to first publish with them because imperial copyright law granted protection in all colonies. London printers refused Canadian printers the license to print books first published in London and authors had little incentive to first publish in Canada, as colonial copyright law only granted protection in Canada. The Canadian government sought to further strengthen the Canadian print industry with an 1872 bill that would have introduced a projected licensing scheme that allowed for a reprinting of books under foreign copyright in exchange for a fixed royalty. The British Government opposed the bill and it never received Royal Assent.[8]

In order to encourage the local printing and publishing industry Canada made a number of diplomatic and legislative efforts to limit the effects of the 1842 Imperial Act. In a compromise arrangement Canada passed the Copyright Act, 1875,[9] which provided for a term of twenty-eight years, with an option to renew for a further fourteen years, for any "literary, scientific and artistic works or compositions" published initially or contemporaneously in Canada, and such protection was available to anyone domiciled in Canada or any other British possession, or a citizen of any foreign country having an international copyright treaty with the United Kingdom, but it was contingent on the work being printed and published (or reprinted and republished) in Canada.[10] By registering under the Canadian Act, British and foreign publishers gained exclusive access to the Canadian market by excluding American reprints.[6]

In 1877, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the Imperial Act of 1842 continued to have effect in Canada, despite the passage of the Canadian Act of 1875.[11] This effectively meant that Canadian copyright was a local scheme, whereas Imperial copyright conferred general protection throughout the British Empire.[12] The application of Imperial copyright was strengthened by the earlier decision of the House of Lords in Routledge v Low,[13] which declared that residence of an author, no matter how temporary, anywhere in the British dominions while his book was being published in the United Kingdom, was sufficient to secure it. As the United States of America was not then a signatory to an international copyright treaty (thus rendering its citizens ineligible for Canadian copyright), many Americans took advantage of this ruling by visiting Canada while their books were being published in London (and thereby obtaining Imperial copyright).[14]

There were other significant differences between the Canadian and Imperial régimes:[6]

Provision Copyright Act, 1875 (Canada) Copyright Act 1842 (Imperial)
Term Initial term of 28 years, with option to renew for another 14 years Life of the creator plus 7 years, or 42 years from publication (whichever was greater)
Registration of copyright Required for grant of copyright Required in order to sue or claim copyright infringement
Copyright notice required Yes No

Under the Copyright Act 1911, the Parliament of Canada was granted authority to either extend its application to Canada or to repeal (subject to the preservation of all legal rights existing at the time of such repeal) any or all enactments passed by the Imperial Parliament (including the Act of 1911) so far as operative within the Dominion. Canada opted to exercise the latter choice, and, upon passage of the Copyright Act, 1921, it assumed complete jurisdiction over copyright and Imperial legislation in the matter ceased to have effect.[15]

Copyright Act, 1921

The Copyright Act, 1921 came into force in 1924. Though Canada was no longer subject to imperial copyright law, it was closely modelled on the UK Copyright Act 1911:

  • the term of copyright was extended to 50 years after the creator's death[16] (but, where a work was not yet published at the time of death, its term was extended to 50 years after publication)[17]
  • sound recordings were protected "as if such contrivances were musical, literary or dramatic works"[18]
  • in the case of an engraving, photograph or portrait, the initial owner of the copyright was the person who commissioned the plate or other original[19]
  • any remaining rights (if any) at common law were abolished[20]

Until 1988 the Canadian Act saw only minor amendments while the Federal Government engaged in a number of studies on copyright reform. New technological developments and the emergence of computers, photocopiers and recording devices led to a recognition that copyright law needed to be updated. Between 1954 and 1960 the Royal Commission on Patents, Copyright, and Industrial Design, known as the Ilsley Commission, published a series of reports. Its brief was "to enquire as to whether federal legislation relating in any way to patents of invention, industrial designs, copyright and trade-marks affords reasonable incentive to invention and research, to the development of literary and artistic talents, to creativeness, and to making available to the Canadian public scientific, technical, literary and artistic creations and other adaptations, applications and uses, in a manner and on terms adequately safeguarding the paramount public interest."[21][22]

Reform (1988-2012)

Between 1977 and 1985, a series of reports and proposals were issued for the reform of Canadian copyright law.[23][21]

Eventually a copyright reform process was initiated in two phases: Phase one was started in 1988 and saw several amendments to the Copyright Act. Computer programs were included as works protected under copyright, the extent of moral rights was clarified, the provision for a compulsory license for the reproduction of musical works was removed, new licensing arrangements were established for orphan works in cases where the copyright owner could not be found, and rules were enacted on the formation of copyright collecting societies and their supervision by a reformed Copyright Board of Canada.[21]

Phase two of the reform took place in 1997 and saw the Copyright Act amended with a new remuneration right for producers and performers of sound recordings when their work was broadcast or publicly performed by radio stations and public places such as bars. A levy was introduced on blank audio tapes used for private copying and exclusive book distributors were granted protection in Canada. New copyright exceptions were introduced for non profit educational institutions, libraries, museums, broadcasters, and people with disability, allowing them to copy copyrighted works in specific circumstances without the permission of the copyright owner or the need to pay royalties. Damages payable for copyright infringement and the power to grant injunctions were increased, and the 1997 reforms introduced a mandatory review of the Copyright Act.[21] Copyright in unpublished works was limited to 50 years after the creator's death, but unpublished works by creators who died after 1948 but before 1999 retain their copyright until 2049.[24]

After becoming a signatory country of [25] The 2012 Act focuses on digital lock provisions, the protection of authors' rights, and the public's rights concerning the copying of legally obtained materials.[26] During consideration of the bill, many groups publicly stated their opposition to its digital lock specifications,[27] arguing that such measures infringed on legitimate usage of copyright holding.[28]

Rights Conferred

The Act confers several types of rights in works:

  • copyright
  • moral rights
  • neighbouring rights

Copyright includes the right to first publish, reproduce, perform, transmit and show a work in public. It includes other subsidiary rights such as abridgment and translation.[29]

Moral rights were instituted upon Canada's accession to the Berne Convention, and they possess several key attributes: attribution, integrity and association. They allow the author of a work to determine how it is being used and what it is being associated to.[29]

Neighbouring rights — generally discussed in the music industry (e.g. performer's rights, recording rights) — are a series of rights relating to one piece of work, and were established upon Canada's accession to the Rome Convention. They do not relate to the creative works themselves, but to their performance, transmission and reproduction.[29]

Similar protection is extended to copyright holders in countries that are parties to:

Protected Works

A work must be original and can include literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works or compilations. Copyright is granted the moment the work is created and does not distinguish work of a professional or that of an amateur. There is also no distinction between for profit or commercial use or for hobby purposes. Literary work includes anything that is written, such speeches, essays and books and may be in any form. However, a short string of words or spontaneous speech is not covered. Dramatic works include the characters, scenes, choreography, cinematography, relationship between characters, dialogue and dramatic expression. Artistic works include sculptures, paintings, photographs, charts and engravings. Musical works include any musical compositions with or without words. Unexpressed ideas are not protected work.[29]

Copyright also extends to incomplete creations such as proposals, treatments and formats, and infringement can occur when subsequent audiovisual works use their elements without ever actually literally copying them.[30]

Ownership of a creative work may be assigned to corporation or other employer as part of an employment contract. In such a cases, the employer retains ownership of the creative work even after the contract ends. The new copyright owner is therefore free to make changes to the finished product without the creator's consent.[31]

A creative employee, meanwhile, may continue to use his or her experience, expertise, and memory to create a similar product after the conclusion of a contract. In 2002, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a literal interpretation of the word "copy" and found that a software engineer's creation of a "similar" product from memory did not constitute infringement of his former employer's copyright.[32]

Fair Dealing

Unauthorized copying of works can be permissible under the fair dealing exemption. In CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada,[33] the Supreme Court of Canada made a number of comments regarding fair dealing, and found that the placement of a photocopier in a law library did not constitute an invitation to violate copyright. In Alberta (Education) v Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright), the Court further clarified this exemption from copyright law in the context of education, finding that a teacher may photocopy a brief excerpt from a textbook in circumstances where it would be impractical to purchase a text book for each student.

Fair dealing is to be examined on a case-by-case basis. The purpose of the dealing, character of the dealing, amount of the dealing, alternatives of the dealing, nature of the work and effect of the dealing are factors that can contribute to fair dealing. Those favouring a broad interpretation of fair dealing argue there ought to be reasonable unauthorized reproduction of works because it facilitates creativity and free expression. They also argue that fair dealing provides reasonable access to existing knowledge. Those arguing that fair dealing ought to be more restrictive and specific state that fair dealing will reduce revenue to those creating works. They also argue the reproduction of works and sends a wrong message to the public that works are free as long as it falls under this banner. Their economic argument is that fair dealing should not compensate for the market's inability to meet the demand for public knowledge.[34]

Public domain

A work will fall into the public domain:[35]

  1. 50 years after publication, in nearly all cases, if it was subject to Crown Copyright.[36]
  2. if it was a photograph created before 1949.
  3. if it was a photograph that was created after 1948 — but before 1962 — and the copyright was owned by a corporation.
  4. if it was an unpublished work created by an author who died before 1949.
  5. 50 years after the death of its creator (but unpublished works by authors who died after 1948 but before 1999 will not enter the public domain until 2049).
  6. 50 years after publication where the creator is unknown, or (if not published) 75 years after its creation.
  7. if it is a performer’s performance, 50 years after the performance occurs, but (a) if the performance is fixed in a sound recording, 50 years after its fixation, and (b) if a sound recording in which the performance is fixed is published before the copyright expires, the earlier of 50 years after publication and 99 years after the performance occurs.
  8. if it is any other sound recording, 50 years after its fixation, but if the sound recording is published before the copyright expires, 50 years after its publication.
  9. if it is a communications signal, 50 years after the signal is broadcast.

In all cases:

  1. copyright expires at the end of the calendar year in which the relevant date falls.
  2. in the case of joint authorship of a work, copyright extends from the death of the last surviving author.[37]
  3. in the case of a pseudonymous or anonymous work where one or more of the creators have become commonly known, the normal rules governing authorship apply.[38]
  4. where the author is the first owner of the copyright and has subsequently assigned it (other than by will), the assignment will only extend to 25 years after the author's death, after which copyright will revert to the author's estate.[39]
  5. moral rights in a work have the same term as the copyright in it, and cannot be assigned (other than by inheritance), but can be waived in whole or in part.[40]


The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), part of Industry Canada, administers intellectual property laws concerning the registration of patents, trade-marks, copyrights, industrial designs and integrated circuit topographies.[41]

Copyright Board

The Copyright Board of Canada is a federal agency that has four primary functions: (1) establish royalties users must pay for copyrighted works; (2) establish when the collection of such royalties is to be facilitated by a "collective-administration society"; (3) oversee agreements between users and licensing bodies; and (4) grant users licenses for works when the copyright owner cannot be located.[42]

Collection of royalties and enforcement of copyright is often too costly and difficult for Individual owners of works. Therefore, collectives are formed to facilitate the collection of fees.[43] Collectives may file proposed tariff with the Copyright Board or enter into agreements with users.

Collectives regulated by the Copyright Board
Collective Function
Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada Canadian composers and lyricist assign performance and communication rights to the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers in Canada (SOCAN), which then sells blanket licenses of its repertoire. The licensing fees collected are distributed back to Canadian composers and lyricists.[43]
Canadian Private Copying Collective To cope with the large number of private copying of audio recordings, provisions requiring the collection of levies on blank audio recording media were implemented in 1997. The collected proceeds are distributed to Canadian and foreign composers, but only Canadian recording makers and performers may enforce the levies,[43] which are collected by the Canadian Private Copying Collective. As of 2013, the levy imposed for private copying is 29¢ for each CD-R, CD-RW, CD-R Audio or CD-RW Audio.[44]
Access Copyright Access Copyright is the collective for English-language publishers, and its recent focus has been towards the education and government sectors. Its tariff replaces the former Canadian Schools/Cancopy License Agreement. The initial 2005–2009 tariff, which fixed the royalty at $5.16 per full-time equivalent student,[45] was the subject of extensive litigation [46] which was finally resolved by the Supreme Court of Canada in Alberta (Education) v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright),[47] after which the rate was reduced to $4.81.[48] Proposed tariffs for subsequent years are still pending at the Copyright Board.[49]

See also

Further reading

Pre-1921 doctrine
Post-1921 doctrine
  • Perrault, Antonio (1924). "La propriété des oeuvres intellectuelles". La Revue du Droit (in Français) 3: 49.  et seq.[51]
  • Fox, Harold G. (1944). The Canadian Law of Copyright. Toronto:  


  1. ^ Gendreau 2008, p. 111.
  2. ^ a b Gendreau 2008, pp. 110–111.
  3. ^ a b Gendreau 2008, pp. 111–112.
  4. ^ Gendreau 2008, p. 108.
  5. ^ Copyright Act of 1868, SC 1868, c. 54
  6. ^ a b c Bannerman 2013, ch. 3.
  7. ^ Gendreau 2008, pp. 113–114.
  8. ^ Gendreau 2008, p. 114.
  9. ^ , SC 1875, c. 38"Copyright Act, 1875". 
  10. ^ Copyright Act, 1875, ss. 3–5
  11. ^ Smiles v. Belford, 1 O.A.R. 436, held to have been properly decided in Durand et Cie v. La Patrie Publishing Co. 1960 CanLII 63 at p. 656, [1960] SCR 649 (24 June 1960)
  12. ^ Easton, J.M. (1915). "III: Local Copyright Laws of British Colonies and Possessions". The law of copyright, in works of literature, art, architecture, photography, music and the drama: Including chapters on mechanical contrivances and cinematographs, together with international and foreign copyright, with the statutes relating thereto (5th ed.). London: Stevens and Haynes. pp. 339–345. 
  13. ^ Routledge v. Low, (1868) 3 LTR 100
  14. ^ Dawson 1882, pp. 20–21.
  15. ^ Gendreau 2008, pp. 114–115.
  16. ^ Copyright Act, 1921, s. 5
  17. ^ Copyright Act, 1921, s. 9
  18. ^ Copyright Act, 1921, s. 4(3)
  19. ^ Copyright Act, 1921, s. 11(1)(a)
  20. ^ Copyright Act, 1921, s. 41(3), Schedule
  21. ^ a b c d Makarenko, Jay (13 March 2009). "Copyright Law in Canada: An Introduction to the Canadian Copyright Act". Judicial System & Legal Issues. Mapleleafweb. Retrieved 15 August 2010. 
  22. ^ "Patents, Copyright and Industrial Designs, Royal Commission on". The Canadian Encyclopedi. Retrieved 15 August 2010. 
  23. ^ Keyes, A.A.; Brunet, C. (1977). Copyright in Canada: Proposals for Revision of the Law. Ottawa: Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada. , From Gutenberg to Telidon: a white paper on copyright. Ottawa: Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada. 1984. , and A Charter of Rights for Creators — Report of the Subcommittee on the Revision of Copyright. Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada. 1985. 
  24. ^ Copyright Act, s. 7(3)
  25. ^ "Copyright Modernization Act (S.C. 2012, c. 20)". 
  26. ^ Christine Dobby (September 29, 2011). "Canada’s copyright overhaul and the digital locks controversy".  
  27. ^ Copyright Act, ss. 41–41.21, inserted by the Copyright Modernization Act
  28. ^ "Responding to Bill C-32: An Act to Amend the Copyright Act". Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. November 2010. 
  29. ^ a b c d Vaver 2011.
  30. ^ Cinar Corporation v. Robinson 2013 SCC 73 (23 December 2013)
  31. ^ Netupsky et al. v. Dominion Bridge Co. Ltd. 1971 CanLII 172, [1972] SCR 368 (5 October 1971)
  32. ^ Delrina Corp. v. Triolet Systems Inc. 2002 CanLII 11389, 58 OR (3d) 339 (1 March 2002), Court of Appeal (Ontario, Canada)
  33. ^ CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada 2004 scc, [2004] 1 SCR 339 (4 March 2004)
  34. ^ Geist 2010, pp. 90–120.
  35. ^ Copyright Act, ss. 6–12, 23
  36. ^ Copyright Act, s.12
  37. ^ Copyright Act, s. 9
  38. ^ Copyright Act, ss. 6.1–6.2
  39. ^ Copyright Act, s. 14
  40. ^ Copyright Act, ss. 14.1–14.2, 17.1–17.2
  41. ^ "What is CIPO". Canadian Intellectual Property Office. 
  42. ^ "Our Mandate". Copyright Board. 
  43. ^ a b c Vaver 2000, pp. 216–221.
  44. ^ "Tariff of Levies to Be Collected by CPCC on the Sale, in Canada, of Blank Audio Recording Media".  
  45. ^ "Statement of Royalties to Be Collected by Access Copyright for the Reprographic Reproduction, in Canada, of Works in its Repertoire".  
  46. ^ Geist 2010, pp. 503–540.
  47. ^ Alberta (Education) v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright) 2012 SCC 37, [2012] 2 SCR 345 (12 July 2012)
  48. ^ "Statement of Royalties to Be Collected by Access Copyright for the Reprographic Reproduction, in Canada, of Works in its Repertoire".  
  49. ^ "Tariffs proposed by Access Copyright". Copyright Board. 
  50. ^ Gendreau 2008, p. 115, fn. 38.
  51. ^ Gendreau 2008, p. 119, fn. 59.

External links

  • (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42)"Copyright Act". 
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