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What authors should know about copyright laws . . .

Copyright protects original works in fixed form — that is, copyright protects the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself. Copyright applies to all original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works.

However, copyright does not last forever. Authors, editors, and publishers should have a thorough knowledge of the copyright laws of their country of origin.

If you decide to incorporate into your book a published or unpublished work or piece of work that is not your own, you must get written permission from the rights holder (the author or publisher) of that work — unless the work or piece of work is in the public domain. It would also be worthwhile to understand the concept of fair dealing (Canada) or fair use (United States). If you are interested in sharing your work with the public on conditions of your choice rather than reserving all rights under copyright law, you might consider using Creative Commons licenses.

Here is a short summary of the copyright laws in Canada and the United States gathered from their respective legislation:

Copyright in Canada

Unlike many other countries, in Canada, creators do not have to register their work. As soon as an original work is in a fixed format, it is protected by Canada’s federal parliament. The Copyright Act gives the creator the sole right to prohibit or authorize the production or reproduction of a work, or substantial part of it, in any form.

The duration of copyright in Canada is the life of the author plus 50 years after the author’s death. However, exceptions include:

  • Multiple authors: the duration of copyright is from the life of the author who dies last plus 50 years after the author who dies last.
  • Posthumous works, anonymous works, and movies: the duration of copyright is 50 years from the end of the calendar year of first publication, or 75 years from the end of the calendar year of the making of the work.
  • Works published, performed or communicated to the public by telecommunication 50 years immediately before this section (7) of the Act: the remainder of the calendar year in which this section (7) of the Act comes into force and for a period of 50 years following the end of that calendar year, whether or not the work is published or performed in public or communicated to the public by telecommunication after the coming into force of this section (7) of the Act.
  • Works published, performed or communicated to the public by telecommunication more than 50 years before this section (7) of Act: the remainder of the calendar year in which this section (7) of the Act comes into force and for a period of five years following the end of that calendar year, whether or not the work is published or performed in public or communicated to the public by telecommunication after the coming into force of this section (7) of the Act.

For more information on the copyright in Canada, click here.

Copyright in the United States

In the United States, the duration of copyright is 70 years after the death of the author for any works created and fixed in a tangible medium after or on January 1, 1978. However, exceptions include:

  • Multiple authors: the duration of copyright lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death.
  • Works made for hire and anonymous and pseudonymous works: the duration of copyright is 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter (unless the author’s identity is later revealed in Copyright Office records, in which case the term becomes the author’s life plus 70 years).
  • Works already protected by January 1, 1978: the 1909 Act and 1976 Act allowed for renewal of copyright when the first term was up (With renewal, this meant a total of 56 years from registration under the 1909 Act, and total of 67 years from registration under the 1976 Act). Therefore, the maximum duration of copyright is 95 years (a first term of 28 years plus a renewal term of 67 years). Applying these standards, all works published in the United States before January 1, 1923, are in the public domain.
  • Works originally copyrighted after 1922 and renewed before 1978: all of these works have an extended copyright term of 95 years (a first term of 28 years plus a renewal term of 67 years) from the end of the year in which they were originally secured copyright. Works originally copyrighted between January 1, 1950, and December 31, 1963. Copyrights in their first 28-year term on January 1, 1978, still had to be renewed to be protected for the second term. If a valid renewal registration was made at the proper time, the second term will last for 67 years.

For more information on copyright laws in the United States, click here.

Copyright in Other Countries

According to the Legislative Summary of Bill C-1, the Copyright Act of Canada is not enforceable outside Canada’s borders. However, the summary states that international conventions and treaties expand the rights of Canadian creators to the territories of other member countries and include enforceable penalties for copyright infringement.

To see the list of these international treaties, click here.

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