THING 15 – COPYRIGHT
Copyright is a law which governs how we can use artistic or creative works, be them digital or not, such as music, novels, plays, articles, sculptures, movies, pictures or software code and interfaces. It is present in most countries around the world and follows the same basic principles, with some twists here and there.
Copyright exists to foster economic markets, and protects interests of artists, creators and their industrial partners. It is a form of intellectual property, alongside patents, trademarks, trade secrets as well as image, privacy and data rights.
Copyright is automatic, worldwide and will expire a long time after your demise. Creating copyrighted works is easy, just snap a picture with your smartphone or text a poem to a loved one. What is a bit harder is making a decent wage with the copyrighted works you create.
From the user’s perspective, copyright forbids what technology allows. For example, a lot of people would lose their jobs if anyone could make their own copies of popular video games or movies and sell them to their friends. This being said, widespread access to smartphones and the internet has changed how we access and use artistic and cultural works, shaking the foundations of copyright rules.
As you may suspect, copyright is complex, so it is hard to know exactly what’s illegal or not. There are two broad ways to safely use copyrighted content.
Firstly, you can seek permission from the legitimate right holder. This could be the original creator, such as the author of a book or their publisher, as well as a special type of organisation specializing in clearing copyrights. They are called collecting societies. In Canada, the Copyright Board weigh in on how much collecting societies can charge user communities, such as universities or radio stations.
Seeking permission is the safest way to use copyrighted content. On the other hand, it sometimes fails because it is hard to locate the right entity to seek permission from, licensing is too expensive or the right holder refuses to grant permission. This leads us to our second point.
Secondly, you can qualify for an exception for your use. When this occurs, you don’t need permission from the right holder – or pay them – to use the work. Some common exceptions found worldwide include the use of short citations of other author’s writings or copying to facilitate access to knowledge for the visually impaired.
In Canada, we have a few additional exceptions, such as fair dealings for the purposes of news reporting, criticism, review, parody, satire, private study, research and education. Copyright also identifies special cases or institutions which have additional exceptions. Because they are seen as curating the public good, educational institutions, libraries, archives and museums get special exceptions to fulfill their mission.
The USA has a slightly different take, they have a fair use exception and it is more flexible than Canadian fair dealing. European Union countries mostly offer precise exceptions rather than fair use/dealings. You need look at the rules applicable in which the use takes place. The worldwide reach of the Internet, coupled with easy access to technologies makes copyright slippery.
Simply stated, Canadian copyright rules provides for a strong property right and flexible exceptions. It aims to create economic markets and protect the interest of artists, creators and industry. Users of copyright content can rely on exceptions should markets fail. Copyright is tricky but necessary.