Copyright Defined

Our Canadian Intellectual Property Office provides a useful overview of copyright:

In the simplest terms, “copyright” means “the right to copy.” In general, copyright means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form. It includes the right to perform the work or any substantial part of it or, in the case of a lecture, to deliver it. If the work is unpublished, copyright includes the right to publish the work or any substantial part of it.

Copyright also applies to performers’ performances, sound recordings and communication signals, though the applicable rights may differ somewhat.

People occasionally confuse copyrights with patents, trademarks, industrial designs and integrated circuit topographies. Like copyright, these others are rights granted for intellectual creativity and are forms of Intellectual Property (IP).

By default, Canadian copyright restricts the use of works, but through reforms to the Copyright Act some institutions grew to have more exemptions from the restrictions. In Canada, Fair Dealing (Fair Use in the United States) outlines exceptions for the use of other people’s copyright protected material for the purpose of education, private study, research, satire, parody, criticism, review or news reporting, provided that what is done with the work is ‘fair’. With fair dealing, using the work requires neither permission nor payment of royalties.

The positive space of the copyright symbol is scattered with the troublesome terms in copyright law: restrictions, exceptions, limited, proportional, compete, realistic, and exemptions.“Fair” is determined by weighing use of the work across multiple considerations:

  • whether the number of copies is reasonable and digital copies are secured to prevent further copying and | or distribution;
  • whether a proportional part of the work is copied (when the copied part is compared to the entire work from which it was copied);
  • whether the part of the work that is copied represents the substance of the entire work (when the copied part is evaluated from a qualitative perspective);
  • whether there are realistic alternatives for learners to access the work; and
  • whether the copies will compete with sales of the original work.

Recent Supreme Court decisions have recognized expanded rights for learners and educators to make limited use of many published and publicly accessible works for the purposes of research and private study.

However, there are still troubling terms embedded in copyright: exceptions, restrictions, exemptions, proportional, limited, compete, realistic, etc.

Copyright Redefined

To provide an alternative to the restrictive and limited use of copyrighted works, Creative Commons was established in 2001. It allows creators to choose how to share, adapt, and even commercialize their work. Learn more about Creative Commons.