Copyright protects original literary, musical, dramatic or artistic works in a variety of forms, including written materials, computer software, and web-based formats. Copyright is the exclusive right of the creator, or subsequent copyright holder, to reproduce a work.

Copyright protects the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself. It exists automatically as soon as an original artistic, literary or musical work or software is created. Consequently registration at the Copyright Office is purely voluntary; failure to register will not affect the validity of the copyright. It is advisable, however, to put the public on notice that the creator is claiming copyright by marking all copies of the work with a copyright notice (© [author’s name], [year of publication]).

Example: © The University of British Columbia, 2001

The creator of an original work also has moral rights, which include the right to protect the integrity of the work, even if it has been commissioned by or sold to another. For example, the act of tying ribbons around the necks of 60 Canada geese forming a sculpture in the Toronto Eaton Centre was found to be a violation of the sculptor’s moral rights. Moral rights may also include the right to be known as the work’s author or creator. The creator may not assign moral rights to another, but may waive them.

Copyright protection in Canada lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years. Moral rights last for the same term as the copyright. Copyright extends to other countries by virtue of treaties, such as the Berne Convention and Universal Copyright Convention. The term of protection in another country depends on that country’s national law.