The Law that we call Copyright

Submitted for Assignment 2, Creative Commons Certificate:  Copyright Law

The word “copyright” can strike fear and trepidation into the hearts of men and women, but is it really something to be afraid of?

Copyright gives creators rights to their creations so that they control how others can use their works.  Sounds reasonable.  If you spend a lot of time creating something, like a book or a movie or a painting, you want to be able to keep people from taking it and either passing it off as their creation or altering it in a way that you might not agree with.   While in the past, creators had to jump through formal bureaucratic hoops to get copyright for their creations, today they don’t need to do anything  – copyright is automatic.

In addition to giving creators control over their creations, copyright is meant to encourage creators to continue to create, and to ensure they receive attribution for their works when they are cited or performed.  But what about encouraging creativity outside of the author, for example with musical performances, movies, or plays? In the video below, Dr Luke McDonagh  from the Law School at City University London explains:

Is Copyright Law preventing or encouraging creativity: City University London – shaping opinion

One thing to be aware of:  if you create your work as part of your work for an institution, or as part of a contract for someone else, you may have not exclusive rights over your creation.  For example, if you are a faculty member at a post-secondary institution and write a book in your work time, the institution may well (depending on the country) hold copyright over that work (although, as the author, you will retain moral rights).

Copyright covers original creations, but not copies of others’ creations –  typically creations that are written, recorded, saved electronically, etc.  It also does not cover facts or ideas, although since creations are ideas made “concrete”, this distinction can be tricky to define.  The type of creations that can be copyrighted can changes from country to country, but typically include literary/artistic works or collections of these, translations and adaptations, and sometimes computer software or industrial designs.

Trademarks and  patents are related to copyright as different types of intellectual property, but trademark law covers identifiers of companies and products, for example, logos and brand names, while patent law covers inventors, giving them exclusive rights over their inventions for a limited time.

The complexity of intellectual property as copyright, patents, and trademarks, is explained in this video by Stan Muller:

Introduction to Intellectual Property: Crash Course IP 1

Eventually copyright expires, or a creator gives up her copyright, and works pass into the public domain.  When this happens depends on the term of copyright in any given country.  Works may also be in the public domain when they never had copyright applied to them, as with documents created by the government.  When a work moves into the public domain, it can be used freely, within the constrains of the moral rights of the creator.  I should note, however, that when a work passes into the public domain in one country, it may still be copyrighted in another – so be careful!

For those works not in the public domain, and not covered by Creative Commons licensing, some countries have instituted fair use or fair dealing exemptions to copyright.   Fair use generally asks if the use of a creation is fair, whereas fair dealing refers to specific uses of a creation as fair.  In Canada, fair dealing exemptions defined in the Canadian Copyright Act are uses for research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, review, and news reporting.

This short video from the University of Ottawa outlines how fair dealing works in Canada:

Copyright and Fair Dealing

Of course, copyright and copyright law are a bit more complex than I’ve outlined here, but you can always read the Canadian Copyright Act to find out more :-).


City University London. (2016, June 9). Is Copyright Law preventing or encouraging creativity: City University London – shaping opinion. [Video File]. Retrieved from

[CrashCourse]. (2015, April 23).  Introduction to Intellectual Property: Crash Course IP 1. [Video File]. Retrieved from

[University of Ottawa]. (October 5, 2015). Copyright and Fair Dealing. Retrieved from

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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6 Responses to The Law that we call Copyright

  1. Pingback: NaNoPoblano 2019: November 8 – Day 3 of Posting! | Zombie Flamingos

  2. jilldennison says:

    Very informative! Thanks!


  3. ghostmmnc says:

    This seems so complicated. It’s a wonder anyone ever reads or understands the rules of copyright. I’m always hesitant to use any of those memes that it seems everyone posts, or to put things on Pinterest, as I’ve heard horror stories about people who got in serious trouble for doing that.


  4. schudele says:

    Reblogged this on eLearning, Camosun College and commented:
    Here is my assignment 2 for the Creative Commons certificate: The Law that we call Copyright!


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