Duration of copyright protection in Canada

What is the Duration of Copyright Protection in Canada?

The Canadian 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 they create throughout their lifetime. Their heirs or assignees enjoy copyright for a period of fifty years until the calendar year end after the author’s death.

Copyright Duration Based on Life of Author

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.

Copyright Duration Calculation

Calculation of the duration of copyright is based on the calendar year plus fifty years. This is opposed to the actual date of the author’s death.  For example, if a writer died on March 1, 1980, copyright in their books expire on December 31, 2030.  In fact, most works of the same author (unless any works are subject to a specific provision other than the general rule of copyright) will be protected for the same amount of time.

Exceptions to the Life+50 Rule

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.

Learn more about Canadian copyright law.

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Licensing Electronic Resources


Licensing Digital Content: A Practical Guide for Librarians is now available in its third edition. This book is a practical guide for librarians in Canada and around the world, and is intended for those who license digital content such as databases, periodicals and journals. Purchase book.

Licensing digital content can seem like a maze to those unfamiliar with licensing terminology and this plain language explanation of licensing electronic resources has been written to fill this gap.

This book is written by Lesley Ellen Harris, author of Canadian Copyright Law, Fourth Edition.


Of the second edition of “Licensing Digital Content: A Practical Guide for Librarians,” American Reference Books Annual declared, “Lesley Ellen Harris’s book has become the standard for libraries and has yet to have an equal published that is either as useful or as clear.”

Contents of Licensing Digital Content

Covering the basics of digital licensing for librarians, this edition, published by ALA Editions, helps library professionals, students and publishers the understanding needed to negotiate and interpret license agreements. The book:

  • explains licensing terminology and discusses changes in technology
  • Includes information on newer developments such as text and data mining
  • points out license fee savings opportunities in license negotiations
  • provides a comprehensive digital license checklist, and
  • guides readers through educating organizations on how to legally use licensed electronic content.


Note to Canadian and Other Non-U.S. Readers
Quick-Starter Tips for a Successful Agreement

1 When to License
2 Demystifying the Licensing Experience
3 Learning the Lingo
4 Key Digital Licensing Clauses
5 Boilerplate Clauses
6 Un-Intimidating Negotiations
7 Questions and Answers on Licensing
8 Go License!


A Fair Use–Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act
B Interlibrary Loan–Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act
C Digital Licensing Clauses Checklist
Online Resources
About the Author

Learn more about copyright and licensing digital content in the Certificate in Canadian Copyright Law program.

Canadian Copyright for Bloggers


Lesley Ellen Harris spoke in Montreal at the Food Bloggers of Canada conference. The presentation focussed on legally using content as well as how bloggers can protect content they create and post on their own blogs.

Are Recipes Protected by Copyright?

Because the presentation was given to a group of food bloggers, the number one question asked throughout the food blogger’s conference related to reproducing recipes and whether recipes are protected by copyright.

Bottom line: a list of ingredients are not protected by copyright however the prose or words used to describe how to make the recipe is protected by copyright. Of course you can’t really protect phrases like, Add half a cup of sugar. So many food bloggers and recipe book authors try to create a style with specific phrases and wording so it’s obvious when someone is copying their style. Is a style protected by copyright? No, but the exact words used to describe how to make a recipe are protected by copyright. Changing a few words here and there is also not permitted; you can only use the ideas in the recipe instructions and any instructions you provide on your blog should be in your own words.

Is Attribution to Recipe Authors Mandatory?

Copyright tips for bloggersAnother big issue for food bloggers is attribution. Even if you use a list of ingredients without permission and you explain how to make the recipe in your own words, ethically you should attribute the original recipe author. You should also link to the author’s website or to the recipe itself if it’s available online.

Copyright Tips for Canadian Food Bloggers

Want further information on these issues? See this list of copyright tips for Canadian food bloggers on how to stay legal (legally use the content of others) and how to protect content you create and post on your blog and on other social media sites.

Click here to learn more about Canadian copyright law and how it affects food bloggers and others.


Canadian Copyright Law Quiz

Think you know Canadian copyright law? Test your knowledge on Canadian copyright law with these 10 concepts about Canadian copyright law.

Canadian copyright law

True or False?

1. Copyright law is the same throughout the world. T F

2. Canada is a member of the leading copyright convention, the Berne Convention. T F

3. Canada and all countries have the same copyright duration: life + 50 or fifty years after the author’s death. T F

4. If you have permission to reproduce an image in a print book, you may also post that image on your website. T F

5. Once you have copyright protection in Canada you automatically have protection in at least 174 countries (in addition to Canada) that belong to the Berne Copyright Convention. T F

6. Copyright registration is mandatory in Canada. T F

7. Fair use and fair dealing are exactly the same thing and both exist in the Canadian Copyright Act. T F

8. Even if an author has assigned the copyright to you, the author still has the right to prevent modifications that may be harmful to her reputation or honour. T F

9. If you cannot locate a copyright owner in Canada, then you may use that person’s content if you put in reasonable efforts to locate the owner even without obtaining an unlocatable copyright owner license from the Copyright Board of Canada. T F

10. There is an exception in the Canadian Copyright Act for individuals for the use of noncommercial user-generated content, which is sometimes called the YouTube or mashup provision. T F

ANSWERS: 1F; 2T; 3F; 4F; 5T; 6F; 7F; 8T; 9F; 10T.

Learn more about Canadian copyright law.

copyright, WIPO, Marrakesh Treaty

Canada Joins the Marrakesh Treaty

In September 2016, we see the first World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaty targeting those who use content, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty or Marrakesh or MVT). Marrakesh becomes effective 30 September 2016. The treaty sets out limitations and exceptions for countries to include in their domestic copyright laws to allow the reproduction, distribution and availability of published works in accessible formats and to permit those works to be exchanged across borders. Like all WIPO treaties, Marrakesh requires ratification by 20 states to take effect. Canada recently adhered to Marrakesh as the 20th country.

International Copyright Law

June 2013 marked a milestone in international copyright law and in the role of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) with the finalization of a new treaty: the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty or Marrakesh or MVT).

One unique element of the Treaty is that it is the first WIPO copyright treaty devoted solely to copyright limitations or exceptions as opposed to rights for creators of copyright-protected works, performers and sound recording producers. Limitations or exceptions limit the exclusive rights of creators and allow consumers to use protected content without permission from creators. More than 600 negotiators from WIPO’s then-186 member countries met in June 2013 to finalize this historical Treaty. (WIPO currently has 188 member states.)

WIPO Copyright Treaties Set Minimum Standards

Similar to all WIPO treaties, the Marrakesh Treaty does not set out the law as it applies to works for the blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. Rather, it sets out minimum standards that Treaty member-countries must adhere to and include in their own domestic copyright laws. The Treaty applies to all literary and artistic works (including text, notation and related illustrations) whether or not the works are published or otherwise made publicly available in any media. It is understood that this includes these works when they are in an audio form; for example, as audiobooks.

Fifty-one countries signed the Marrakesh Treaty; however the Treaty becomes effective only once twenty countries have ratified it. In order to ratify the Treaty, the ratifying country must have in its own copyright legislation the minimum standards that are in the Treaty. Once a country has ratified the Treaty, it is said to be a member of the Treaty.
Current Members of the Marrakesh Treaty.

The first 20 countries to ratify Marrakesh are (in alphabetical order):
El Salvador
North Korea
South Korea
United Arab Emirates


National Law Exceptions
Ratifying countries to Mararakesh must have a provision in their copyright statutes that sets out a limitation or exception for accessible format copies. The provision is an exception to the right of reproduction, the right of distribution, and the right of making available to the public to allow for the availability of works in accessible format copies for beneficiary persons. The provision should allow any necessary changes to the work required to make it accessible in the alternative format. Ratifying states may go a step further and extend this provision to the right of public performance.

As is the case with other copyright treaties, any limitations or exceptions provided for in domestic legislation must meet the following test as set out in Article 11 of the Treaty:
“…a Contracting Party may permit the reproduction of works in certain special cases provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author.”

It is up to each Treaty member country to interpret this test for any limitation or exception.

10 Myths About Canadian Copyright Law

Think you know Canadian copyright law? Is fair use the same as fair dealing? Does Canada have the same duration of copyright protection as other countries around the world? Is it necessary to register a work in order to have copyright protection in Canada? Take a look at my updated post identifying several myths about Canadian copyright law. You may find some useful information about Canadian copyright law. Click for 10 Myths About Canadian Copyright Law.

Canada Extends Duration of Copyright in Sound Recordings

Extension of copyright duration in CanadaCanada 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 is effective 23 June 2015. So pencil in on page 132 of Canadian Copyright Law, Fourth Edition,  the new duration for sound recordings: 70 years.

Origin of Extension of Duration of Copyright in Canada

On 21 April 2015, the Canadian government released its Economic Action Plan 2015. Page 305 of the Plan deals with the protection of sound recordings and performances. The plan proposes to amend the Canadian Copyright Act and to extend the duration of copyright protection in Canada of performances and sound recordings from 50 years to 70 years after the release date of the sound recording. The stated purpose of this term extension is to ensure that performers and record labels are fairly compensated for the use of their music for an additional 20 years. The Plan states:

The mid-1960s were an exciting time in Canadian music, producing many iconic Canadian performers and recordings. While songwriters enjoy the benefits flowing from their copyright throughout their lives, some performers are starting to lose copyright protection for their early recordings and performances because copyright protection for song recordings and performances following the first release of the sound recording is currently provided for only 50 years.

Who Benefits from the Extension of Copyright?

In its press release, Music Canada mentioned that artists such as Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Anne Murray would benefit from this term extension as their works would have otherwise been entering the public domain over the next five years. The press release quoted Gordon Lightfoot saying, “I’m still releasing albums but my fans love my older songs. Thanks to the federal government for the recent legislation. Its’ passage will make sure the sound doesn’t go down on my early songs.”

The extension of copyright protection in Canada is only for performers (singers and musicians) and record companies (or anyone who make sound recordings.) The duration of protection for books, paintings or computer software is not affected. However, the duration of copyright in these works is usually much longer than in sound recordings since the duration is based on the life of the author; the duration remains at 50 years after the author has died.

The extension of the duration to 70 years will also benefit Canadian artists who will now be able to collect royalties from the exploitation of their recordings in European Union countries which only provide a 70 year copyright protection to nationals of countries that also provide 70 years of protection. This reciprocity will help increase royalties for artists.

P.S. Toronto-based lawyer Bob Tarantino point out the finer details of the extension of copyright for sound recordings .

Learn more about Canadian copyright law.

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