The Duration of Copyright in Canada
The Copyright Act provides the general rule for the length of copyright protection for published works as “the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year.” Under this life-plus-fifty rule, an author has copyright in a work he or she creates throughout his or her lifetime, and his or her heirs or assignees enjoy copyright for a period of fifty years until the calendar year end after the author’s death.
Note that the duration of copyright in Canada is determined by the life of the author, and not by the life of the owner of copyright. So if an author sells his copyright and assigns the rights in his work to another person or company, the duration of copyright is still calculated based on the life of the author – and not the new owner. This is also true where works made during the course of employment grant copyright to someone other than the author of the work – copyright is determined based on the life of the author. Where duration is tied to the life of the author, the date when the work was created or first published is irrelevant with respect to the term of copyright protection.
Calculation of the duration of copyright is based on the calendar year plus fifty years, as opposed to the actual date of the author’s death. For instance, if a writer died on March 1, 1980, copyright in his or her books expires on December 31, 2030. In fact, most creations of the same author (unless any creations are subject to a specific provision other than the general rule of copyright) will be protected for the same amount of time.
There are various exceptions to the above general rule of life-plus-fifty protection. For example, Crown or government works in Canada are protected until published and for an additional fifty years from the date of publication. A complete explanation of the duration of copyright protection in Canada and exceptions to the life-plus-fifty rule are in Chapter 8, Canadian Copyright Law, Fourth Edition.
Duration of Moral Rights Protection in Canada
The Copyright Act specifically states that moral rights last for the same term as the copyright in a work. So, moral rights endure for the life of the author plus fifty years from the calendar year end of the author’s death. This term allows heirs to sue on behalf of a deceased author where it seems that a modification to a work resulted in prejudice to the author’s honour or reputation, or to protect any other of the moral rights.
Has Copyright Duration in Canada Recently Been Extended?
Effective 23 June 2015, Canada extended the protection of copyright in specific works only – in performances and sound recordings. The duration of copyright protection in performances and sound recordings is now 70 years after the release date of the sound recording. See Canada Extends Copyright Protection in Sound Recordings.
What is a Public Domain Work in Canada?
Once copyright has expired in a work, the work is said to be in the “public domain.” The work is no longer protected by copyright and can be used freely, without obtaining permission from or compensating, the copyright owner. For example, works of Mozart and Shakespeare are in the public domain and can be copied freely (provided the works are not adaptations).
In Canada, the duration of copyright cannot be extended or renewed.
Once copyright expires, moral rights also expire, and a work may be freely adapted and used without the author’s name on it. In some countries, moral rights are in perpetuity and exist even after copyright in a work expires.