English

Protecting songs, scripts and film or TV ideas

Region: Ontario Answer # 165

In Canada, copyright is automatically attached to any original writing, music, lyrics, choreography, sculpture, engravings, photographs, drawings, maps, charts, sound recordings, art or other original works, such as films. It even applies to unpublished works.

What many people may not realize is that the actual act of creating an original work immediately establishes a copyright for the creator. There is no requirement that a creator register his or her work with an official body or publish it to establish a copyright (though a copyright can be formally registered for a small fee with Ottawa’s Copyright Office). Copyright for published works lasts for the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of 50 years following the end of that calendar year.

Copyrighted works can only be reproduced in their original form with the permission of the owner of the copyright and, possibly, the payment of a fee. If you infringe upon someone’s copyright, you can be sued in civil court for damages and, under the copyright legislation, you may be subject to a hefty fine and/or jail term. In most cases, the copyright holder will ask a civil court for an injunction in order to prevent publication of the copies and will also sue for damages suffered (such as lost profits).

A summary conviction under the federal Copyright Act could bring a maximum fine of $25,000 and/or up to six months in jail, while a conviction on indictment could lead to a maximum fine of $1 million and/or up to five years in jail. Statutory damages are also allowed, which permit copyright owners to recover $100 to $20,000 per work infringed without having to prove any actual losses were suffered. The amount of damages awarded will depend upon several factors including:

  • whether the party who infringed the copyright is an individual, a business, or an organization,
  • whether the infringement was for commercial purposes, and
  • the amount of losses, if any, to the copyright owner.

All that said, there is no copyright in mere ideas, facts or pure information in any works. The law has clearly set out that copyright only protects the way in which an idea or information is expressed (that is, its format), not the idea or information itself. For example, information in a copyrighted news story can still be re-published or written differently as film screenplays or books by others so long as these subsequent works don’t copy the original’s wording or manner of expression.

For more information about intellectual property law, contact the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). If you require legal advice and assistance, you should consult a lawyer.


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