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Are facts protected by copyright?

In Canada, a copyright arises as soon as a work comes into existence.

However, actual facts are not protected by copyright; only the specific expression of those facts is protected. That is because copyright literally means ‘the right to copy.” Where pure facts are involved, everyone has the right to copy them because they cannot belong to one person.

For example, if an author writes a book then he or she has a copyright over that book. However, the author does not have a copyright over the facts that he or she used in the book.

Say the author wrote a book about the Titanic. The historical fact that the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 is not protected by copyright law. The author can use the fact but cannot copyright it.

Copyright law doesn’t protect the material itself but the original expression of the material. The material has to be original material in the literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic genres. It’s the original expression of works of an author that is protected, because that author used his or her own talent, skill and judgment to create the work even though the ideas and facts in the work may be nothing new.

In other words, it’s the way in which the author wrote the book, and used his imagination and writing talent, that is protected.

So, in keeping with the same example of the author, though facts within the book can be re-used by another author, the other author cannot copy the original author’s work word by word, because that will be copyright infringement and very likely plagiarism as well.

What else cannot be protected by copyright law in Canada?

Besides facts, other items that are not protected are ideas, history and news. Again, it’s the expression of ideas, history and news that is protected, not the ideas, history and news themselves.

What is protected by copyright law?

Original works are protected. Some examples of these works are:

  • Dramatic works such as motion picture films, plays, screenplays and scripts;
  • Musical works such as compositions with or without words;
  • Literary works such as books, pamphlets, computer programs and other works consisting of text;
  • Artistic works such as paintings, drawings, maps, photographs, sculptures and plans.

If you think you’ve suffered copyright infringement of your work you should consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Copyright: What is/what is not protected by copyright

A Guide to Copyright