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Posted by Oyen Wiggs Green & Mutala LLP on December 12, 2010 in Notices

What is a copyright?
Copyright means the exclusive right to copy creative works. It covers more than mere copying, however; no one may copy, publicly perform, publish, translate, convert, adapt, record or broadcast the work, or any substantial part of it, without permission from the owner of the copyright.

What can be protected?
Copyright applies to original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works — whatever the mode or form of expression. It also protects performances, sound recordings, broadcasts and computer programs. To be original, the work must be the product of the author’s skill and labour and must not be copied from another’s work. The originality requirement does not, however, mean that the work must be the product of genius or noteworthy creative skill or have any artistic merit. Thus maps or engineering drawings, as well as books, computer programs, plays, songs, paintings, and photographs are all proper subject matter for copyright.

What cannot be protected?
Copyright does not protect ideas or concepts. Only a specific expression of an idea or concept can be protected. For example, the author of a book on the history of Vancouver would have copyright in that specific book, but could not prevent publication of another book on the same topic. The copyright only prevents copying of the way in which the first book expresses the topic. Subsequent authors must cover the topic in their own words. Similarly, anyone may photograph or paint a picture of Niagara Falls, Lake Louise or the Empress Hotel — but that person must not copy someone else’s photograph or painting.
Copyright does not apply to transient occurrences such as sporting events, although a film, videotape or broadcast of the event would be protected.

Are there other forms of protection for things that copyright does not protect?
Although copyright does not protect ideas or concepts, they may be eligible for patent protection.
Similarly, copyright does not protect titles, names, slogans, or other short word combinations, but they may be eligible for trademark protection.
Copyright also does not protect features of shape, configuration, patterning or ornamentation which are applied to useful mass-produced articles, but such features may be eligible for industrial design or design patent protection.

How long does copyright last?
In most cases, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 50 years from the end of the calendar year of his or her death. For works of joint authorship, the 50-year period runs from the end of the year of death of the author who dies last. For records, tapes, and photographs (where the original negative was owned by a corporation not controlled by the photographer) and similar manufactured devices embodying a copyright work, copyright lasts for 50 years from the end of the year in which the original master or negative was made.

How is copyright protection acquired?
In Canada, copyright protection arises automatically for works which are capable of being protected by copyright, provided that the work is original and:
• the author was a citizen of Canada or a qualifying foreign country at the time the work was created; or,
• the first publication of the work occurred in Canada or in a qualifying foreign country.
Most industrialized countries are qualifying foreign countries.

Who owns copyright?
There are a number of exceptions, but in general:
• initially, the author of a work owns the copyright;
• if the work is an engraving, photograph or portrait and the original was ordered and paid for by some other person, then that other person owns the copyright; and,
• if the author made the work in the course of his or her employment then the author’s employer owns the copyright.

Can ownership of copyright be transferred?
Yes. The owner of the copyright in a work may transfer (or “assign”) all or part of the copyright to someone else. The assignment must be in writing and must be signed by the owner. Even after assigning copyright, the author of the work can still claim authorship, restrain modification of the work in certain circumstances, and prevent the work from being used to endorse commercial products — unless such rights are waived.

Does copyright extend to physical objects?
Ownership of copyright is not equivalent to ownership of the physical object(s) embodying the copyrighted work. For example, Stephen King does not own each of the many copies of the books he has authored. However, Mr. King is the initial owner of the copyright in the words expressed in those books.

What do I have to do to obtain copyright protection?
Nothing. Copyright protection arises automatically in Canada. However, you may choose to register your copyright. Registration of copyright is desirable if a dispute appears likely, or if you need formal documentary certification of title. Copyright protection is similarly available without registration in the United States and in many other countries.

Is "©" important?
"The Universal Copyright Convention" typically appears on a published work in this way: "© 2004, John Smith". In this case, 2004 is the year of first publication of the work and John Smith is the name of the copyright owner (who is not necessarily the author). There is no legal significance to this notice in Canada. It does not indicate that the copyright is registered, but it does remind the reader of the existence of copyright.

What additional requirements does the National Library Act create?
The National Library Act requires that two copies of any new book published in Canada and one copy of any sound recording manufactured in Canada, and having some Canadian content, be sent to the National Library of Canada in Ottawa within one week of publication.

About the author of this article:
Oyen Wiggs Green & Mutala LLP ( is Western Canada’s largest independent intellectual property law firm. Established in 1977, we are deeply rooted in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, with wide-reaching associations that enable us to advance our clients’ interests around the world.

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