Who owns the Copyright?

Region: Ontario Answer # 316

In most cases, the person who created the work will own the copyright. However, if an employee creates the work for an employer, then, unless they have an agreement that says otherwise, the employer will be the owner of the copyright. This means that typically freelance contract workers own the copyright in the works they produce for someone else, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.

How does a court decide?

A court will consider a number of factors to determine whether a work was made “in the course of employment” when deciding who owns copyright. These factors include:

  • Did the employer give orders to create the specific work?
  • Was the work carried out under the supervision of the employer?
  • Was the work created as part of the ordinary duties of the creator as an employee?
  • Is the work closely related to the type of business of the employer?

What happens when the copyright owner dies?

When a copyright owner dies, the copyright is treated like other property, and becomes part of his or her estate and is inherited by the creator’s heirs. The heirs will acquire the exclusive rights in the work, which means that they can authorize the reproduction, publication, or performance of the work.

Special ownership rules apply if you assign or license your copyright to someone else.Refer to #320 – Assigning or licensing a Copyright to learn more.

For help

The question of who owns copyright can be complicated. You should consult with an Intellectual Property lawyer for legal help and advice. For more information, refer to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.


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