History of Copyright in Canada

Objectives of the copyright law

Canadian copyright laws and regulations are designed to ensure that the rights of creators and other rights-holders are recognized and protected; and to promote access to copyrighted works.

Canada's domestic copyright framework must also meet our international obligations and be consistent with international standards endorsed by Canada.

Effective copyright protection is key to cultural expression, citizen engagement, and economic growth powered by the rapid expansion of the knowledge-based economy.

History of copyright law in Canada

Modernization of Canadian copyright law is a work in progress. The Canadian Copyright Act came into force in 1924. Although there were a few amendments made to the Act in the following years, the modernization of the Act did not begin until 1988. Amendments at that time included:

  • an exhibition right for artistic works;
  • explicit protection of computer programs;
  • enhanced moral rights;
  • the creation of a new Copyright Board;
  • increased criminal sanctions;
  • measures to improve the collective administration of copyright;
  • the abolition of compulsory licenses for the recording of musical works (a provision which compelled a copyright owner to allow someone to use his or her work subject to payment of a specified royalty rate); and
  • a new procedure to provide licences to use works when the copyright owner cannot be located.

First phase of reform

In January 1989, following the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the Copyright Act was amended to require Canadian cable and satellite companies to pay for the retransmission of works included in distant broadcast signals. The amendments also expanded the concept of "communication to the public" from broadcasting to include all forms of telecommunication.

In 1993, the passage of Bill C-88 further amended the Canadian Copyright Act. The main objectives of this bill were:

  • to redefine "musical work" to clarify that the Copyright Act covered both graphic and acoustic representations of music; and
  • to ensure that all transmitters -- whether broadcasters, specialty or pay services, or cable systems -- were liable for royalties.

When the North American Free Trade Implementation Act came into force on January 1, 1994, the Copyright Act was amended to introduce a rental right for sound recordings and computer programs (a rental right permits copyright owners to authorize or prohibit the rental of their works). It also increased protection against the importation of infringing works (e.g. literary, musical, or dramatic works).

Amendments in the World Trade Organization Agreement Implementation Act, which came into force on January 1, 1996, extended the copyright protection afforded by the Copyright Act to all World Trade Organization (WTO) countries. It also gave performers protection against bootleg audio recordings (an unauthorized recording of a live event) and unauthorized live transmissions of their performances.

Second phase of reform

In 1997, the enactment of Bill C-32 completed the second major phase of copyright reform in Canada. This bill introduced significant changes to the law, including neighbouring rights protections for performers and producers of sound recordings, and the private copying regime. The bill also introduced a statutory damages regime, and a number of new, but limited, exceptions.

Other reform process to the Copyright Law

In December 2001, legislation was introduced to amend Canada's retransmission regime for over-the-air broadcast signals. Bill C-11, which received Royal Assent in 2002, clarified the retransmission rules in the Copyright Act for retransmitting over-the-air broadcast signals over the Internet.

Following the amendments under the retransmission regime, those retransmitters that were subject to the CRTC "New Media Exemption Order" were excluded from the compulsory licence. The amendments also added regulation-making powers that would allow the Federal Government to impose conditions of service on such retransmitters that, in the future, may no longer be subject to the exemption order.

In June 2007, Parliament passed Bill C-59 to amend the Criminal Code to address the problem of illegal recording of films in movie theatres. The legislative change made it an offence punishable by fine or jail time to record a film in a movie theatre without the consent of the theatre owner.

Bills C-60 and C-61

Two bills have been tabled since Bill C-59 was passed. Bill C-60, tabled on June 2005, and Bill C-61, tabled on June 2008, both died on the order paper after the dissolution of Parliament.

Copyright Consultations

On July 20, 2009, the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, and the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, launched national consultations to obtain the Canadian public’s views on the proposed reform of the Copyright Act, following the introduction of Bill C-61.

The purpose of the consultations was to give Canadians across the country the opportunity to express their opinions on the approach the government should take regarding the modernization of copyright legislation.

For more information on copyright consultations, please contact the Copyright Policy Branch.

Bill C-32

On June 2, 2010, the Government of Canada introduced legislation to modernize the Copyright Act. This legislation brings Canada in line with international standards and promotes home-grown innovation and creativity. For more information on the provisions of the new Bill, please contact the Copyright Policy Branch.

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