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Who owns a copyright?

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So you’ve written an awesome poem and you are convinced that this is the greatest poem in the world and you’re the next Margaret Atwood. Great! Have you ever wondered though whether you actually own the copyright for your poem?

Good news: in Canada, you are the first owner of the copyright. What does that mean though?

What kind of work is copyrighted?

In Canada artistic works like poems, short stories, novels, paintings, musical scores, etc., are all works that are copyrighted and protected under Canadian copyright law.

Some non-artistic works like computer programs can also be copyrighted.

The following list sheds more light on what is copyright protected in Canada:

  • Literary work
    • This includes materials that are on the internet and materials that have been printed;
  • Artistic work
    • Items that range from anything like patterns and maps to drawings;
  • Musical work
    • Sheet music, songs with or without words, audio cassettes, audio CDs;
  • Dramatic work
    • Really in any form whether it be film and television to choreography;
  • Sound recording
    • This can include a wide variety of things anything from actual CDs to papers recorded at a seminar;
  • Performer's performance
    • Those should be recorded performances of artists like singers, actors, authors, dancers, etc., and the works should be in some kind of recorded media form;
  • Communication signal
    • Example: Television and radio signals.

You actually don’t need to register a copyright with the government for your creation to be protected. A copyright exists automatically when you create your work.

However, if you don’t register your copyright (as fast as possible) and someone claims that your work is really a reproduction of their work, then you will have the burden of proof to show this is your original work. A certificate of registration of your work is good proof in court that you are the owner of the work.

The way Canadian law puts it, you are the “author” of the work and therefore the legitimate copyright owner.

What “author” means, when it concerns copyright, is the person who exercises skill and judgment that produces the artistic expression of the work in some kind of physical form.

Exceptions to copyright ownership

There are several exceptions to the first owner of copyright rule:

  • Works created by employees
    • If you are an employee of a company and your creation is part of your employment, then your employer is the first owner of your work.
  • Sound recordings
    • For sound recordings the rules differ. The copyright for this type of recording doesn’t belong to the author, but to the maker. A maker is the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the first fixation of the sounds are undertaken.
  • Government of Canada works
    • Any material that is created for, by or under the direction or control of the federal government is owned by the Government of Canada.
  • Performances by performers
    • If a performer’s dance or song or other artistic routine is recorded, whom does the copyright belong to: the recorder of the piece or the performer? It belongs to the performer.
  • Communication signals
    • If the signal is produced by the broadcaster, then the broadcaster is the owner of the signal.

Why does my employer own the copyright to my work?

As was already explained above, an employer owns the employee’s creation. The Canadian Copyright Act spells out in s.13 of the act, that if the work was created in the “course of employment,” then the work belongs to the employer.

S. 13 of the Act states in sub-section 3:

“Where the author of a work was in the employment of some other person under a contract of service or apprenticeship and the work was made in the course of his employment by that person, the person by whom the author was employed shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright, but where the work is an article or other contribution to a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, there shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be deemed to be reserved to the author a right to restrain the publication of the work, otherwise than as part of a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical.”

Read More:

Registering a Copyright in Canada

Copyright Act