7 Things Canadian Librarians Must Know About Copyright Law

Guest post by Lesley Ellen Harris, Copyrightlaws.com

Lesley Ellen Harris is a copyright lawyer, author and educator. Lesley is the founder and publisher of the copyright resource site, Copyrightlaws.com, where she explains copyright law in plain English. She is the author of the book, Canadian Copyright Law, Fourth Edition (Wiley Publishers.)

Finding your way through the maze of Canadian copyright law is challenging. Does fair use exist in Canada? Do you have to register a work to be protected by Canadian copyright law? Can you share a PDF of an article accessed through your licensed database? These are some of the many questions you, as a librarian, face in your day-to-day work. Here are seven essential points every Canadian librarian should know about copyright law.

#1: Ideas are not protected by Canadian copyright law

Ideas, facts, history and news are not protected by Canadian copyright law. It is the expression of ideas, et cetera, that is protected by copyright. This means that you can summarize an article or write a blog post based on news events, as long as you do not reproduce or copy the article or a news report.

#2: Canada’s copyright duration is life-plus-50

Canada adheres to the international norm for the duration of copyright protection: life of the author plus fifty years. This is set out in the leading international copyright treaty, the Berne Convention. However, some countries, including those in the European Union and the United States, go beyond this norm and provide copyright protection for life-plus-70. Note that Canada has now extended the protection of copyright in performances and sound recordings to 70 years after the release date of the sound recording. This new term became effective 23 June 2015.

 Once copyright has expired in a work, it can be used in any manner — even modified and adapted — and no permission is required.

 #3Revision of the Canadian Copyright Act is ongoing

 The current Canadian Copyright Act was enacted in 1924 and has never been replaced by an entirely new Act. The current Act has, however, been amended a number of times. Current Canadian government initiatives are to amend the Act rather than overhaul it and replace it entirely. The most current major amendments to the 1924 Act are in Bill C-11, the Copyright Modernization Act, which received royal assent on 29 June 2012. It is important that those who manage the legal use of copyright materials keep up to date on minor and major revisions of the Copyright Act, and also on relevant court cases in Canada.

#4Copyright protection is automatic

Copyright is automatic upon the creation of a work in a fixed form. One may register their works with the Canadian Copyright Office and will then receive some benefits should they ever enforce their rights in a legal suit. However, registration is not mandatory for copyright protection. From a librarian’s perspective, this means that a search of the Copyright Office’s records may not provide a definitive answer to the copyright status and ownership of protected materials.

#5: Specific provisions for libraries

The Canadian Copyright Act has exceptions to the exclusive rights of copyright owners that apply specifically for libraries, archives and museums. This does not mean that all uses of copyright-protected materials by these institutions are allowed without permission and payment. To be eligible, your library must be one that is not established or conducted for profit and not directly or indirectly controlled by a body that is established or conducted for profit. Also, your library must hold and maintain a collection of documents and other materials that is open to the public or to researchers. Then, your use of the protected materials must be for one of the specified purposes as set out in the Copyright Act such as management and maintenance of your collection, and interlibrary loan.

#6: Fair dealing might apply to your intended use of protected materials

The fair dealing provision of the Canadian Copyright Act (not to be confused with fair use under U.S. law) can be helpful when it comes to using copyright-protected materials without permission. It is available to all who use protected materials, not just libraries, archives and museums. The use must fall within one of the fair dealing purposes (research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, review and news reporting) and overall be considered fair according to six criteria set out in a Supreme Court of Canada case. In essence, fair dealing is always a judgment call and anyone who uses fair dealing needs to make this judgment in each circumstance where they want to apply this principle. Those who apply fair dealing must be aware that the ultimate arbiter of whether this provision applies is a judge in court.

#7:  International copyright

Canada is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) leading treaty on copyright, the Berne Convention, which has 172 member countries. Canada joined the Berne Convention in 1928. In addition, Canada joined the two WIPO digital/Internet treaties in 2014. From the librarian’s perspective, this means that when reproducing or sharing copyright-protected materials from other Berne member countries, you apply Canadian law if you are using those materials in Canada.

The content of this post is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice; consult a lawyer should you need legal advice.

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