Comparing Canadian and US copyright law

usa-canadian border

Source: (by Rachel Yeomans) [updated 1/25/2016]

Sharing a border, the 49th parallel, you may think that the copyright laws in Canada and the U.S. are pretty much the same. Think again. The laws are quite different and the application of the laws on each side of the border can result in very different results when using, reproducing and sharing copyright-protected content.

Let’s start with an example. You are based in Canada and reproducing an article written by a U.S. author and published by a U.S. publication. Do you need permission? Under which law do you determine if permission is necessary? Global copyright law principles guide us to the principle of national treatment – you apply the law where the work is being used. So in this example, we apply Canadian copyright law. We look at the Canadian Copyright Act to determine if permission is needed.

One of the first questions we address is whether the work is protected by copyright. We apply the copyright duration of life-plus-fifty (or fifty years after the death of the author) under Canadian copyright law rather than the longer duration of life-plus-seventy that exists under the U.S. Copyright Act. So if the author of the article has been dead for sixty years, the work is in the public domain and you do not have to obtain permission to use the work.


Duration of copyright is only one of the many differences between Canadian and U.S. copyright law.

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For 18 years, has been the portal for copyright and licensing information for creators, owners, distributors, and consumers of content. Lesley Ellen Harris, author of Canadian Copyright Law, founded with the mission of taking the “gray areas” and “it depends” out of copyright.

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