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What is Copyright?

Copyright is a legal framework that protects creators of literary and artistic works by establishing economic and moral rights that enable creators to:

  • control the publication and reproduction of their works;
  • receive remuneration; and
  • protect the integrity of their works.

Copyright protection exists as soon as a work is created.  In Canada, there is no requirement that the work be registered or that the word “copyright” or the symbol © appear on the work.  The work may be registered, if the creator desires, under a voluntary government registration system.  Other countries may require registration and/or designations to be placed on the work to activate copyright protection.

The Copyright Act regulates the rights of creators and users of copyright in Canada.

What is Protected by Copyright?

Copyright law protects a wide range of works, including, for example, books, articles in journals or newspapers, films, videos, plays, scripts, paintings, drawings, maps, technical drawings, sculptures, computer programs, and songs. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

Copyright law does not protect ideas, facts, news, information, names, or works whose copyright has expired.

Ideas: Copyright protects the expression of an idea but not the idea itself. Copyright is only available to an idea that is expressed in a fixed form (i.e. paper or electronic media).

Facts: As with ideas, copyright subsists only in the expression of facts within a work, and not the facts themselves. The facts or figures cited in a newspaper article, for example, are public domain, and can be re-used provided that the re-use does not copy the way the author of the article has expressed them.

Works whose copyright has expired: Copyright protection – the legal right to reproduce, publish, and sell a work – expires after a period following the death of the work’s author/creator. In Canada, the copyright for a work typically expires 50 years after the death of its creator. After this period has elapsed, the author’s works become public domain.

Names and symbols may, of course, be protected in some ways by trademark law. For further information about each of these categories, see the contact information provided on the Online Resources page.

Only works that are original and fixed are protected by copyright. A work is considered “original” when it is the product of the author’s own skill, judgment and creativity, has not been copied and demonstrates more than a trivial, mechanical level of skill and judgment. A work is “fixed” when it is produced onto any media, like paper or within a digital file.

What about unpublished works? Copyright protection exists from the moment a work is created and is initially held by the author.

What about out-of-print or unavailable books? These works are not necessarily in the public domain. The material may still be protected by copyright. If so, then to copy  beyond what is permitted by Fair Dealing or another exception in the Copyright Act, permission will need to be obtained from the copyright owner. Contact the Course Kit Centre or a licensed copy shop to verify the publication status or help you to obtain permission to reproduce the entire book.