2022 term extension

On December 30, 2022, the Canadian Government changed the general term (that is, the length) of copyright protection in Canada from 50 years after the death of the author/creator to 70 years after the death of the author/creator. This change is not retroactive, so any works for which the copyright had expired before December 30, 2022 will still be copyright-free in Canada (that is, will be in the public domain in Canada). For example, a literary work written by a person who passed away in the year 1971 will have entered the Canadian public domain on January 1, 2022 and that work will remain copyright-free in Canada despite this change to the law. 

PLEASE NOTE: Certain types of works will have different lengths of copyright protection than the general term of copyright described above. To help determine whether a work is copyright protected, we recommend consulting this Canadian Public Domain Flowchart created and maintained by the University of Alberta Copyright Office.

What is public domain?

Copyright protection does not last forever. Regardless of where a work was created, the general rule in Canada is that copyright lasts for the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies and for 70 years following the end of that calendar year. This statutory rule is known as the "life plus 70" rule. Copyright protection begins as soon as work is created, and will expire on December 31 of the 70th year after the author dies at which time the work enters the public domain. For example, if a work was created on April 30, 1976 and the author dies on July 27, 1989, the copyright protection extends from April 30, 1976 to December 31, 2059, at which point it would enter the public domain. If the work was created by more than one person, copyright protection exists for the life of the creator who dies last, the remainder of the calendar year in which that person dies, plus 70 additional years. Once a work has become part of the public domain, it is no longer protected by copyright and can be copied, modified and distributed without permission.

Publicly available works, such as those available on the internet, are not the same as public domain works. Most content on the Internet or in journals and books, is not in the public domain. For any public domain work that has been republished with new content, the new version is copyrighted but the original work would remain in the public domain. For example, Shakespeare’s Hamlet in its original form remains in the public domain, but copyright for the version of Hamlet published by Penguin is held by that corporation. Numerous publishers may hold copyright for their versions of Hamlet, but none holds copyright to Hamlet itself.

Works can also be in public domain because the work was either not eligible for copyright protection in the first place or the copyright owner has chosen to completely release the work from copyright protection. This can be done by stating on the work that it may be copied or reproduced without permission or payment of royalties.

Unknown or multiple creators/authors

If the work was created by more than one person, copyright protection exists for the life of the creator who dies last, the remainder of the calendar year in which that person dies, plus 70 additional years. Both economic rights and moral rights also continue to exist for the same period of time.

If the identity of the author is unknown, copyright consists of whichever is the earliest: the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work plus 70 years; or the remainder of the calendar year of the making of the work plus 75 years.

Photographs

Amendments to the Copyright Act in November 2012 and December 2022 changed the timing when certain photographs enter into the public domain.

Photographs taken in 1948 or before are in the public domain in Canada. If the copyright owner of a photo is the Canadian Government (that is, if the photo is protected under Crown copyright) it will enter the public domain in Canada 50 years after it is published. If the photo remains unpublished, it will continue to be protected under Crown copyright. United States federal government photos are often in the public domain, as well, but should not be assumed to be copyright-free unless there is an explicit statement indicating that the photo is copyright-free.

If the copyright owner of a photo is an individual person (or multiple people), the following rules apply:

  • If the individual(s) passed away before January 1, 1972, the photograph is in the public domain.
  • If the individual(s) passed away on or after January 1, 1972, the photograph will remain copyright protected until 70 years after the death of the last surviving individual.
If the copyright owner of a photo is a corporation, the following rules apply:
  • For photographs created by the majority shareholder of the owner corporation:
    • If the creator passed away before January 1, 1972, the photograph is in the public domain.
    • If the creator passed away on or after January 1, 1972, the photograph will remain copyright protected until 70 years after creator’s death.
  • For photographs created by someone other than the majority shareholder of the owner corporation:
    • If the photograph was taken before January 1, 1962, then the photograph is in the public domain.
    • If the creator passed away before January 1, 1972, then the photograph is in the public domain.
    • If the creator passed away on or after January 1, 1972, the photograph will remain copyright protected until 70 years after creator’s death. 
If the creator of the photo is anonymous, the following rules apply:
  • If the photograph is not published, copyright on it expires 75 years after it is created.
  • If the photograph is published, the copyright will expire at the sooner of 75 years after it is published OR 100 years after it was created.
  • If the creator of the photo becomes known, and the creator passed away before January 1, 1972, then the photo is in the public domain.
  • If the creator of the photo becomes known, and the creator passed away on or after January 1, 1972, then the photo is copyright protected until 70 years after the creator’s death.

Government works

Most provincial and municipal government publications are not in the public domain. For government publications created for (or published by) the Crown, copyright in these works lasts for the remainder of the calendar year in which the work was first published, plus an additional 50 years.

Unpublished and posthumous works

*NOTE: This section applies to literary, musical, and dramatic works as well as engravings. For other types of works, please consult the other sections of this webpage.

Posthumous works are works that were not published, performed or delivered in public until after the death of the creator. If a posthumous work or an unpublished work was created on or after January 1, 1999, the term of copyright protection is the life of the creator, the remainder of the calendar year in which the creator died and for 70 years following (that is, the “life + 70” rule).

The term of copyright for other unpublished or posthumously published works depends on the date of death of the creator and the date of posthumous publication/performance of the work (if any). Please see the table below for additional details on the length of copyright protection for unpublished and posthumously published works.

Work never published

Work posthumously published before December 31, 1998

Work posthumously published on or after December 31, 1998

Creator(s) passed away on or after January 1, 1999

Life + 70 years Not applicable Life + 70 years

Creator(s) passed away between January 1, 1972 and December 31, 1998

Longer of:
(a) until December 31, 2048 inclusive; OR
(b) life + 70 years

Longer of:
(a) publication/performance + 50 years; OR
(b) life + 70 years

Life + 70 years

Creator(s) passed away between December 31, 1948 and December 31, 1971

Until December 31, 2048 inclusive

Longer of:
(a) publication/performance + 50 years; OR
(b) life + 70 years

Public domain

Creator(s) passed away before December 31, 1948

Public domain Public domain Public domain

Exceptions

Some specific types of works (for example, sound recordings and cinematographic works) may have a different length of copyright protection. It is recommended not to assume that a work is in the public domain and also note that the term of copyright protection may be a different length in another country. 

Resources

Canadian Public Domain Flowchart

A flowchart to help determine whether a work is in the public domain in Canada. For a “Literary, Dramatic, Musical, or Artistic Work,” start on page one. For a photograph or sound recording, start on page two. This flowchart was created by the University of Alberta Copyright Office

Project Gutenberg

A non-profit organization dedicated to digitizing works in the public domain. Currently over 40,000 titles are available to download in multiple formats. Many titles also available in audio formats.

The Internet Archive

A large archive of images, music, texts, podcasts, moving images and software, many of which are licenced under Creative Commons or are in the public domain. Registered users can also upload their own material and link to it from personal websites.

LibriVox

Audio readings of books that are in the public domain.

Getting help

If you have any questions or concerns about copyright, please let us know!

Copyright Coordinator
122.13 Murray Library

Note: The information obtained from or through this site does not constitute legal advice.

 

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