In a new series of articles, The Breakdown, Words & Music offers short, basic answers to the most common and essential questions from SOCAN members. First up is copyright.

 What is copyright?
Copyright is a bundle of rights granted by law to creators of original work. The public performance right, and the reproduction right, which SOCAN administers on behalf of its members, are only two of these rights.

Why is copyright important?
Copyright protects specific forms of intellectual property, which are creative endeavours that can be protected under the law.

Does SOCAN copyright my songs?
No, SOCAN can’t copyright your songs for you. Actually, copyright is automatically granted as soon as an original work is fixed into a tangible form. This means that as soon as you write it down, record it, make it into a computer file, or fix it in any other way, it’s your copyright. However, in order to protect your copyright, registering your claim to legally document ownership is best. Registration of copyright is useful if you ever need to prove that the work is indeed your own copyright-protected property.

How do I formally register my copyright ownership in Canada?
Contact one of the following or visit their website for further information:

  • Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO)
  • Songwriters Association of Canada (members only)
  • SPACQ – Société professionnelle des auteurs et des compositeurs du Québec
  • SARTEC (members and non-members) for French language copyrights

Can I just send my musical work to myself and keep it in a sealed envelope?
Sending a copy of your song to yourself and keeping the envelope sealed until it is needed (e.g., for a legal proceeding) can be a fact that will help establish the date you claimed authorship/ownership. It doesn’t prove that you created the song; rather, it only helps establish the date you claim the song came into existence.

How long does a copyright last?
In Canada, copyright generally lasts for 50 years after the author dies (or after the last surviving author dies, if a song is co-written). This will change to 70 years when the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is signed, likely in 2019.

What is “public domain”?
A song falls into the public domain when the copyright has expired. After that time, anyone has the right to record it, copy it, modify it, adapt it, and generally use it without obtaining permission. Of course, any new arrangement or adaptation of the song may give rise to a copyright claim.