Copyright 101

Many business owners are unsure about whether their artistic or creative content will attract copyright protection. In this post, we address copyright questions your business may have.


Generally, copyright is a bundle of intangible economic rights provided to authors of original, literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. By protecting economic rights, copyright seeks to encourage creative works by ensuring authors get a just reward for their efforts. It should be noted that copyright protects an original mode of expression, not the underlying idea expressed. In Canada, copyright is governed at the federal level by the Copyright Act.

The primary right often associated with copyright protection is the sole right to produce or reproduce the work, or any substantial part thereof, in any material form. However, holders of copyright have access to a more expansive set of rights, including the right to create certain derivative works (for example, translations of the work) and moral rights that protect the integrity of the work and the author’s association with it.

To be covered by copyright protection, the work must be original and expressed, at least to some extent, in a material form capable of identification. Of note for many businesses, you do not automatically give up your copyright in a work if you post it online. However, depending on the manner in which and place it is posted, it may a) be subject to contracts such as terms of service that affect copyright, or b) imply a license for others to copy and use the work.

Authorship and Ownership

The author of a work must be a natural person, not a corporate entity, which means that your corporation cannot be an author of a work. However, the author of a copyrighted work is not always the owner of the copyright. Where an author creates a work under the employment of some other person (including a corporation, which is a legal person), the employer is generally the first owner of copyright from the moment copyright subsists.

The same is not the case for independent contractors, who will typically be first owners of copyright for the works they author in the absence of contractual language to the contrary.

In either case, it is important that agreements with employees and independent contractors include clear language on assignment of copyright (as well as other forms of IP), and include waivers of moral rights.

Term of Copyright

Copyright in a work generally begins with the creation of the work and ends 50 years after the end of the year of the author’s death. This is the case even where a corporation is the first owner, as described above.

When the copyright in a work expires, it enters the public domain and can be freely copied in that jurisdiction. You do not need to ‘renew’ the copyright on your work – it will automatically carry through the lawful term of copyright.

Registration of Copyright

In Canada, you do not need to indicate that your work is copyrighted, nor do you need to register your copyright in order to receive copyright protection. However, registering your copyright with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) is useful in enforcing your copyright since it a) creates rebuttable presumptions that the work is covered under copyright protection, and b) that you are the lawful copyright owner. 

Want to learn more about your company’s rights or strategies for monetizing your copyright? Let’s chat!

Meet the Authors:

Paul Banwatt | Lawyer

Oleyna Strigul | Summer Student

Meet the rest of the Gilbert’s team!

© 2020, Gilbert’s LLP. All rights reserved. This post is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion of any kind. Gilbert’s LLP does not warrant or guarantee the quality, accuracy, or completeness of any information in this post. This post is current as of its date of publication. It should not be relied upon as accurate, time, or fit for any particular purpose.