Intro to Copyright in Canada

We are well into 2015 and some of you may be following up on one or two resolutions that you’ve made.

Want to lose weight? Can’t help you there. For the last ten years, I’ve been trying to lose ten pounds, and ended up gaining ten pounds instead.

Want to quit smoking? Can’t help with that either. I never smoked.

Want to write a book? Ah-ha, finally, something I can help you with.

copyright-40846_1280One of the things I’ve heard people say is that they’re afraid someone will steal their idea or story. This fear keeps them from talking about it to anyone or even from sending it out to an agent or publisher because they’re afraid their work will be published under someone else’s name. Sadly, what eventually happens to some of them is that they never finish writing the book and the idea never sees the light of day. But, this fear can be overcome by being informed.

The following is some basic information about copyright which I want to share with you. It is meant only for informational purposes and so, should not be taken as legal advice. Click here to read the official guide to copyright from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. 

 © © ©☺© © ©

Can someone steal my idea?

Unfortunately, yes. Ideas are not copyrightable. That said, if someone wrote a book based on your idea, it would most likely be a very different book from the one you write. Think of the shelves of romance books in bookstores. The main idea for every one of them is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back and then, happily ever after. The execution of the idea and how you connect with the reader will make your idea yours.

What’s the big deal about copyright?

It’s how you get paid for your work. Copyright is the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form. This is what publishers and movie producers pay you for, for the right to reproduce your work.

What does copyright protect?

Original creative works by Canadian citizens are protected as outlined in Canada’s Copyright Act.  Since I’m talking about writing, this includes:

– books, poems, pamphlets, computer programs, and other works consisting of text;

– plays, screenplays, scripts; and,

– songs.

 When does copyright begin?

It begins as soon as your work is created.

 Do I have to register the work?

No, but you can if you want. For a fee, the Copyright office will send you a certificate of registration as evidence that copyright exists and that you are the owner. It’s up to you to check if your work is being used without your permission, and to do something about it if it is.

 How long does copyright last?

For the life of the author plus 50 years. After that, it falls into public domain (which means anyone can use it, like the works of Shakespeare or Jane Austen).

 How do I let people know my work is copyrighted?

In Canada, it’s not mandatory to use the copyright symbol © but it’s a good idea to use it just to remind people the work is protected. The symbol can also be used on works that are not registered with the Copyright Office.

 Still not comfortable with showing your work to others? Here are a couple of things you can do:

The Writer’s Guild of Canada

For a fee, you can mail your manuscript to The Writer’s Guild of Canada and they will store it for five years after which if you don’t renew it (and it is up to you to keep track), it will be destroyed. This is NOT a copyright service. All they do is provide a recorded date as to authorship of the work which you would use as proof, if needed.

Poor Man’s Copyright

Mail the final version of the manuscript to yourself by registered mail. Write the title of the story on the back flap. Don’t open the envelope…ever. You would only open it in court in front of a judge, if it ever comes to that, which I hope it doesn’t.

Another source of information is The Writers’ Union of Canada. Non-members can purchase a variety of pamphlets on writing and publishing for a small fee. They also send speakers on a cross-country tour to meet writers and answer questions. Check their website to see if they’re coming to your hometown.

I hope this helps! Now get out there and follow your dream!

2 thoughts on “Intro to Copyright in Canada

  1. This is great information. I often fall victim to worrying that someone will steal my story idea, even though I know it’s foolish and in the end, probably doesn’t matter. We all write so differently and have such different approaches and perspectives that even when two people do use the same storyline (as we often did in writing group exercises or Writer’s Digest prompts) the stories turn out completely different from each other. In fact, I think it’s kinda fun to see how differently a group of people can take a story direction.

    By all means, protect yourself, but not to the extent that you can’t bear to share your work with others for fear that you’ll lose it.

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