Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Douglas Adams’ royalties over his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books continue to be paid to his heirs because he has only been dead for a decade. (©Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved.)
Douglas Adams’ royalties over his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books continue to be paid to his heirs because he has only been dead for a decade. (©Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved.)

Start: Tony Wilson

Copyright issues that can affect your business Add to ...

Copyright can be complicated. Some rights derive from other rights, and there are separate rights that you would not expect to be separate. For example, when you load a CD into your car stereo, there is copyright in the device (the CD itself) and also a copyright in a song. The recording of a song is one right, the song itself is another. They could be owned by different parties. One might think of copyright as a “pie” where the various neighbouring and overlapping rights that could be held by performers, writers, musicians, broadcasters and DVD manufacturers and distributors are sliced up.

When someone owns copyright, the Copyright Act gives the owner the rights to use and commercially exploit those rights. But bear in mind that many originators of artistic, literary, musical, or dramatic works no longer own the works they have created. Why? They have assigned their rights to publishers, music companies, film production companies, and other business that require ownership of the copyright to commercially exploit the “product.”

Authors and creators — unless they're successful and economically very powerful — will have assigned copyright to see their manuscript in print, hear their song on the radio, browse for their novel in a bookstore or see their screenplay on the screen. The commercial world often requires many authors and creators of works to assign those works for commercial exploitation.

Ownership of the copyright in a work includes a number of other rights you might not otherwise think of. For example:

1. The right to convert a dramatic work into another kind of work, such as a novel.

2. The right to convert a novel into a dramatic work.

3. The right to publish a translation of a work.

4. The right to make a sound recording (like an audio book) of a dramatic, musical, or literary work.

5. The right to reproduce, publicly present, and adapt a film.

6. The right to broadcast the work on TV or cable.

7. The right to license computer programs.

Copyright has its limitations, though. It applies to songs, novels, plays, magazine articles, computer programs, and so on, but it does not apply to plots or characters in a novel, factual information, the idea for a plot for a novel, or the title to a song, nor will it protect the name of a television show, book, or movie, although those might be protected through trademark law.

Someone who uses a copyrighted work without consent is said to be infringing on the owner's copyright. Infringement is actionable under the Copyright Act. There are, however, certain exceptions to infringement, such as the private performance of another person’s song in your house or making a copy of a musical recording for private use.

Fair dealing allows people to quote works from books and articles and other works for private study or research or for criticism, review, or news reporting. But infringement of copyright is:

• The public performance of a theatrical play without consent of the owner of those rights.

• Photocopying articles for distribution to students at a university or school without consent of the owner of those rights.

• Video recording a concert without consent of the owner of those rights.

• The mere reprinting of an article without consent of the owner.

Here’s where copyright issues may surprise you and affect your business.

Even the use of background music in an aerobics studio or a restaurant is subject to copyright, because someone else's music cannot be publicly played without consent, and this usually means money. Restaurateurs, bar owners, and especially fitness studio operators are sometimes surprised to learn that they’re required to pay a rights collective, such as SOCAN or NRCC (which became Re:Sound Music Licensing Co. on March 1), an annual tariff based on a formula derived from the number of seats in their establishments or members in their fitness clubs. But that's the law. And frankly, why shouldn’t artists be paid for use of their work in public by others? Even in a fitness studio.

Report Typo/Error
Single page

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeSmallBiz


Next story




Most popular videos »


More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular