A Copyright Tutorial
By Lesley Ellen Harris
As a journalist, you are, whether you realize it or not, dependent
upon copyright law. It is the underlying basis which enables you
to make your living. The right to use the copyright in your creation
is what you grant to your editor and publisher in exchange for money.
Thus, for a writer, understanding copyright is as essential as understanding
the rules of grammar.
As a journalist, the knowledge of copyright will not only ensure
your own rights are protected, but it will help provide you with
a foundation for covering stories relating to the Internet, free
trade agreements, and situations of international copyright violations
(as in China).
Below are some frequently asked questions about copyright.
What is copyright?
Copyright is, literally, the "right to copy" a creation.
Copying may include reproducing (as in photocopying, photographing
or scanning into a computer), performing public, publishing in print
or electronic format, adapting, translating and broadcasting. Only
the owner of copyright may do these things with a creation or authorize
others to do so.
What are electronic rights?
Electronic rights are part of the "bundle" of rights
which the copyright gives to owners of copyright materials. If you
own a work, you own the electronic rights in it unless you have
given them away. By assigning or licensing other rights such as
the right to publish a book, you do not automatically assign or
license your electronic rights. In fact, writers are regularly advised
to retain their electronic rights and negotiate them at a later
time for additional compensation. Electronic rights covers a variety
of rights including website rights, database rights, on-line rights
and CD-ROM rights. You can separately negotiate for each type of
What is protected by copyright?
Copyright exists in every original literary, dramatic, musical
and artistic work and in sound recordings and audiovisual works.
As examples, copyright protects books, scripts, songs, computer
software, CD-ROMs, paintings and videos, as long as they are original,
that is, they have not been copied and their creation involved some
skill and labour.
Is there copyright in ideas?
No. There is no copyright in ideas, information, facts, history
or news events. The expression of these ideas, etc. are protected
by copyright. To illustrate this point, copyright will protect the
words used in a book on how to build a log cabin, but anyone may,
without permission, build a log cabin following the instructions
in the book.
How do I obtain copyright in a work?
You have copyright in your work from the moment it is created.
Once the creation is in a fixed form (e.g. on paper or in your hard
drive), you automatically have copyright protection if you are a
Canadian citizen or resident or are otherwise eligible for protection
in Canada. No registration or deposit of your work is required.
Should I register my work?
There is a voluntary registration system for a fee of $35. Registration
information can be obtained from: The Copyright Office, Canadian
Intellectual Property Office, Industry Canada, Place du Portage,
Phase I, 50 Victoria Street, Hull, Quebec K1A 0C9. The telephone
number is (819) 997-1725 and the fax number is (819) 953-6977. Since
the Canadian Copyright Office will not accept deposits of copyright
works, some creators deposit their works in the U.S. Copyright Office,
or if it's a television or film treatment or script, with the Writers'
Guild of Canada. Also, some creators sent a copy of their work to
themselves by registered mail and only open it, if necessary, before
a court of law.
Do I have to mark my work with the copyright symbol?
Although not mandatory under Canadian copyright law, marking your
work with the copyright symbol, author's name and date of publication,
is a good reminder to others that copyright exists in your work.
© Jane Doe 1997
How do I get copyright in other countries?
If you have copyright in Canada, you are protected in over 100
countries according to the laws where that work is used. For example,
you have protection in the U.S. under U.S. copyright laws. Similarly,
Americans have copyright protection in Canada under Canadian copyright
How long does copyright last?
n Canada, the general rule with respect to literary works is that
copyright lasts for the life of the author until fifty years until
the calendar year end of his or her death. For example, an author
who dies on March 3, 1950 has copyright protection in her works
until December 31, 2000.
Who owns the copyright in my writings if I work for a magazine,
the government or a company?
If you are an employed writer, your employer owns the copyright
in the works you create during your employment unless you have agreed
otherwise. However, if you are a freelance writer with a magazine
or a government contract, you are usually not considered an employee
and you will probably own the copyright in your work. A contract
outlining ownership of copyright will provide the greatest certainty
for freelancers and independent contractors.
Are staff writers on magazines and newspapers considered employees
under copyright law?
Yes, but such writers have the right to stop the publication of
an article if the employer attempts to publish it somewhere other
than in a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical.
Which is better: selling or licensing the copyright in my work?
The general rule is not to sell your copyright. Each time your
work is photocopied, translated, performed in public, or made into
a film or play, you, as the copyright owner are the only one entitled
t authorize such uses of your work and to be paid for them. Therefore,
license your copyright, that is, license those rights which the
editor, etc. required with respect to the work, and explicitly retain
all other rights (for example, electronic rights).
Do I need a contract each time I sell or license my work?
The law requires a written agreement whenever you sell copyright
in a creation or "grant an interest" by means of a license.
Thus, when you give mere permission to publish an article in a newspaper,
for example, you do not need an agreement in writing. However, it
is always a good idea to have something in writing so both parties
are aware of the conditions concerning the use of the copyright
Who owns copyright when an author dies?
Copyright may be passed on to a person's heirs, either specifically
in a will, or as part of the estate of the author.
Are there other rights related to copyright which a writer has
in his or her work?
All authors, even after they have sold or licensed the copyright
in their works, retain moral rights. These moral rights give the
author the right to claim authorship, remain anonymous or use a
pseudonym. Also, authors may restrain any distortion, mutilation
or other modification of their work which would be prejudicial to
their honour or reputation. Further, authors may restrain any "prejudicial"
use of their creations in association with any product, service,
cause or institution. Unlike copyright rights, moral rights cannot
be assigned or licensed; however they can be waived, that is, the
author can agree not to exercise one or all of them.
Can moral rights be violae when a magazine article is violated?
This is not a likely situation. The distortion or mutilation will
be considered as such only if it is judged to be prejudicial to
the author's honour or reputation. An example of such a situation
might be where a screenplay is a distorted interpretation of a stage
Can small parts of an article or book be photocopied?
Yes, "small portions" may be used without permission
of the copyright owner if for the purposes of private study, research,
criticism, review or newspaper summary. However, no court has ever
interpreted the amount which constitutes a "small portion."
Some speculate that copying an entire one-page poem would be a violation
of copyright, whereas copying one page of a 300-page book would
not be, unless that one page was the substance of the whole book.
How can I know when my works are photocopied in schools, businesses
It is next to impossible for authors to be aware of every photocopy
being made of their work. However, there are associations of copyright
holders, known as "collectives", which collect money for
photocopying and distribute the money to its copyright holder members.
The collective for the reprography of English-language materials
is CANCOPY at 6 Adelaide Street East, Suite 900, Toronto, Ontario
MSC 1H6. The telephone number is (416) 868-1620 or 1- 800-893-5777;
the fax is (416) 868-1621; and E-mail is admin@CANCOPY.com.
This article does not constitute legal advice. Should you have
any concerns about your rights, contact a lawyer.
Lesley Ellen Harris is a Copyright & New Media Lawyer and
author of the book "Canadian Copyright Law" (2nd. ed.,
1995, McGraw-Hill) -- see http://www.mcgrawhill.ca/copyrightlaw.
Ms. Harris can be contacted at tel. 416.226.6768 and by E-mail at
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