The Songwriters Association of Canada is committed to supporting the education of music creators across the country regarding the craft and business of songwriting. This is accomplished through various webinars, panels and mentoring sessions that we provide for our members.

The S.A.C offers educational resources to develop the creative art of songwriting, aiming to give music creators the tools they need to maximize their artistic expression and continuously improve their work.

We also approach education from an economic perspective to help music creators better understand the business of music. We educate our members on the principles of copyright and keep them up to date on international legislative developments through our alliance with Music Creators North America and CIAM.

An Introduction to Copyright

Copyright 101

Put most simply, copyright consists of a bundle of rights, which are set out in the Copyright Act. These rights are acquired when original works such as artistic, dramatic and literary works are created. They include, but are not limited to, the right to copy an original work and the right to prevent others from copying a work without permission.

Copyright encourages creativity by protecting the legal and economic interests of those who create original works. In return for this protection, authors are encouraged to share their works with society so that society as a whole may benefit from a vast repertoire of musical, literary, dramatic, and other artistic works.

You can access the Copyright Act on the Department of Justice website.

Copyright is within the federal government’s jurisdiction and is managed by Industry Canada. You can access the Industry Canada’s website here.

Yes. The Copyright Act is a federal statute, so copyright laws are the same in all the provinces and territories across the nation.

The top four Songwriter recommended reforms of the Copyright Law necessary to protect creator rights:

  1. Extend the term of copyright in works to the life of the author plus 70 years, consistent with international standards.
  2. Amend the section 31.1 on network services to address the value gap by treating Internet intermediaries as more than “dumb pipes” and make them liable for infringing activities in certain circumstances.
  3. Through a combination of legislative and regulatory changes, improve the efficiency of the Copyright Board’s processes and the timeliness and predictability of its decisions.
  4. Make the private copying regime technologically neutral to cover audio recording devices such as digital audio recorders, tablets and smartphones.

2. How To Acquire Copyright

Copyright is automatically acquired from the moment of creation of a work, provided that the work meets these three criteria: 1) the work must be original;2) it must be fixed in a somewhat permanent material form; and 3) the author must meet the qualified person requirements set out in the Copyright Act. A qualified person includes Canadian citizens and persons ordinarily resident in Canada.

“Original” means that: 1) the work can’t be a substantial copy of another copyright protected work; and 2) the work must have been created by exercising “skill and judgement”, meaning it can’t be the product of a purely mindless mechanical exercise.

The threshold test for determining whether there is an original work for copyright purposes is relatively low. The work has to be “non-trivial”, meaning it must meet a minimal level of creativity. For example, you can’t change two notes in a pre-existing song and claim it is a new and original work. However, many musical compositions follow a similar popular structure and rhythmic pattern and western music is bound by the limits of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale but the threshold can still be met- musical works needn’t be novel to acquire copyright protection.

Yes, you have. It is not required that you make an audio recording of a musical work to acquire copyright to it. However the fixation requirement must be met. An audio recording serves as evidence of existence of the song and does satisfy the fixation requirement. Song lyrics should be fixed in writing or recorded. The musical composition could be musically notated or embodied in an audio recording.  Either of the foregoing would satisfy the fixation requirement regarding the musical composition.

As a general rule, copyright is first acquired by the author of a work. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. For example, if an author creates a work while executing the duties of his or her employment, the employer owns the copyright, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.

Once acquired, the author then has the ability to transfer the copyright, in whole or in part, to a third party, typically by an assignment.  Copyright can then acquired by a third party under such assignment which is a contract.

Copyright can be acquired by individuals, partnerships or corporations under many contractual situations. For example, under music publishing agreements, under commission agreements for film and television music to name a few.

Put simply, patents protect inventions and copyright protects the form of expression of a work. Patents are granted by the Canadian Patent Office and are only granted to new, useful, and non-obvious inventions. Copyright is granted to an original creative work regardless of whether it is new, novel, or will contribute or advance society. Patents are most typically associated with innovations in pharmaceuticals and engineering.

3. Registering Copyright

There is no requirement that one register one’s copyright in order to acquire copyright. Copyright is automatically acquired from the moment of creation of an original work. That being said, many regard it prudent to register, copyright to their work with the Copyright Office as proof of ownership. You can register your copyright with the Copyright Office.

No. Mailing a copy to yourself is not the same as copyright registration and is not a form of copyright registration., Nor is it a reliable form of evidence of copyright ownership because there are several ways with which registered mail can be tampered. For example, mailing yourself an unsealed envelope and entering the contents at a later date.  There’s no harm or foul in mailing yourself your own work, but it is an unreliable form of evidence and will likely not be given serious consideration in the event of a legal dispute. See also 3.1 above.

4. Copyright Owner’s Rights

There are two main types of rights that are acquired: copyrights and moral rights.

Copyrights are in essence, the rights from which economic value is derived from a work.  These rights include but are not limited to, the right to produce or reproduce the work in any material form.

Moral rights are personal to and acquired by the author of a work and include the right to the integrity of the work.  The integrity right includes the right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or other modification of a work, or the use of a work in association with a product, service, cause or institution to the prejudice of the honour or reputation of the author. Moral rights also include the paternity right,which is the right to be credited as the author of the work under the author’s legal name, pseudonym and includes the right to remain anonymous.

Copyright does not protect ideas. Copyright protects the form of expression of a work. Neither does copyright law grant the copyright holder exclusivity over a subject-matter or an idea, opinion or a plot. For instance, if Shakespeare were alive today and wrote Romeo and Juliet, the prose would be subject to copyright, but the concept of star-crossed lovers would not be protected by copyright.

Having said that, copyright is not limited to exact verbatim copying. When too much of another’s work is copied, the line that divides ideas and expression may be crossed. There is no black and white answer as to where that line is drawn. Each situation must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. What is key to remember is that another song may be similar to yours, but unless the author has had access to your work and has copied a substantial part of your work, there is no direct copyright infringement. Remember, copyright protects against unauthorized use of a work, it doesn’t provide a stranglehold over ideas.

In the absence of permission, typically in the form of a licence, yes. The Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) is the leading intermediary that acts between music copyright holders (aka music publishers) and those interested in obtaining permission to record a cover of your song.

The permission required to record a song is called a mechanical licence. If you are a member, the CMRRA will license your songs on your behalf. See the CMRRA website for more information on song licensing: If you are concerned your copyright has been infringed, seek legal advice from a qualified source.

I own the copyright to my song and I heard my song in a movie, but I never granted the producers permission to use my song. Has my copyright been infringed?

In the absence of permission, yes. A production must apply and obtain permission in the form of a synchronization license for any such use. Permissions for use of songs in television and motion pictures may be also administered by the CMRRA or the copyright holder directly. See the CMRRA website for more information:. If you are concerned your copyright has been infringed, seek legal advice from a qualified source.

If you suspect that someone has infringed your copyright, seek skilled legal advice immediately to determine the best course of action.

In this case, the general rule applies, that is, copyright lasts for the duration of the author’s life plus 50 years after his or her death. After the death of the author, copyright devolves to the author’s estate, unless the author has bequeathed the copyright to someone else in his or her will. In the case of joint authorship, that is, where there is more than one writer of a composition, copyright subsists for the life of the last surviving author plus 75 years after his or her death.

Copyright in a performer’s performance in a sound recording and in the sound recording itself lasts for the remainder of the calendar year during which the performer’s performance and sound recording respectively first occurred, plus 50 years thereafter. However, if published before the copyright expires, copyright continues until the earlier of 70 years from the remainder of the calendar year during which publication of the performer’s performance or sound recording respectively occurred and the end of 100 years from the remainder of the calendar year during which the first fixation of the performer’s performance or sound recording respectively occurs.

The copyright owner has the first right of distribution, that is, the authority to decide how and when to distribute the work, or whether to distribute it at all. Once the work has been put on the market, however, the author loses the ability to control whether or not the physical embodiment of the work is subsequently resold or transferred.

5. International Copyright Issues

Your copyright is not limited to Canada. Canada is a signator to several international treaties relating to international copyright law therefore. Canadian copyright laws apply to all Canadian citizens and persons ordinarily resident in Canada and in Canada to all citizens and persons who are ordinarily resident of all member countries which are signator to the Berne Convention, the Universal Copyright Convention, and the World Trade Organization. In turn, Canadian citizens and persons ordinarily resident in Canada are also granted copyright protection in participating nations.

Copyright laws are territorial and differ from nation to nation.  The applicable law of the country in which the infringement occurs will apply.  For example, if someone has infringed your copyright in Canada , you must assert your rights in Canada under the Copyright Act in Canada. Correspondingly, if someone has infringed your copyright in the United States, United States copyright law applies.  Canada’s Copyright law will not be enforced in a foreign nation.

Where the song was created doesn’t establish its copyrights. Your song has different copyright protection in different nations. Copyright laws vary in each country and which copyright law applies depends on where you intend to exercise and enforce your rights.

6. Royalties

Tariff rates are negotiated between SOCAN and various users of music and are set by the Copyright Board of Canada.

Public performance royalties are collected for and paid to music creators and publishers by SOCAN, Canada’s only performing rights society. For more information about these royalties see the SOCAN website.

Public performances of a song are subject to SOCAN’s tariff of fees and are paid for by the user of the song, such as, a television station or radio broadcaster. What constitutes a “public performance” is very expansive and includes everything from radio airplay to background music at your dentist’s office. See the SOCAN website for more information.

Further information on copyright laws in Canada can be accessed at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s website.

These FAQs were prepared by Jennifer Saull (B.F.A. (Ryerson University) J.D. (University of Toronto)) and Paul Sanderson, Barrister, Solicitor and author of “Musicians and Law in Canada” (Carswell).

The above does not constitute legal advice and in any given situation skilled legal advice should be sought.