Copyright:Support Guides/Public Domain/Public Domain in Canada

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In Canada, the copyright for a work usually expires 50 years after the death of the creator, at the end of the relevant calendar year.

E.g. Since Mordecai Richler died on 3 July 2001, his novels will remain copyrighted until 31 December 2051, and will pass into the Public Domain on 1 January 2052.)

Determining whether a work is in the Public Domain can be complicated, however, as the duration of copyright differs depending on a work's authorship and format. The tables below contain detailed information about these differences, and are designed to help you determine whether the copyright for a work has expired.

The first table covers differences related to authorship, and the subsequent tables cover differences related to specific formats, including literary/dramatic/musical/artistic works, images, cinematographic works (e.g., film and video), and government publications.

1. Authorship

(A) Known Single Author If the author is still living: Not in Public Domain

If the author is now deceased: Is the work published?

(a) If no: Enters Public Domain 50 years after the death of the author.
(b) If yes: Was the author living at date of publication?
→ If yes: Enters Public Domain 50 years after the death of author.
→ If no: Was work published before December 31, 1998?
If yes: Enters Public Domain 50 years after date of publication.
If no: When did the author die?
- Before December 31, 1948: Enters Public Domain on January 1, 2004.
- Between December 31, 1948 and December 31, 1998, inclusive: Enters Public Domain on January 1, 2004.
- After December 31, 1998: Enters Public Domain 50 years after death of author
(B) Known Multiple Authors If any of the authors are still living: Not in Public Domain.

If all of the authors are deceased:

Is the work published?
(a) If no: Enters Public Domain 50 years after the death of last surviving author.
(b) If yes: Was the author living at date of publication?
→ If yes: Enters Public Domain 50 years after the death of last surviving author.
→ If no (i.e. a Posthumous Work): Was work published before December 31, 1998?
If yes: Enters Public Domain 50 years after date of publication.
If no: When did the last surviving author die?
- Before December 31, 1948: Enters Public Domain on January 1, 2004.
- Between December 31, 1948 and December 31, 1998, inclusive: Enters Public Domain on January 1, 2004.
- After December 31, 1998: Enters Public Domain 50 years after death of last surviving author.
(C) Pseudonymous/Anonymous Author(s) If author(s) are unknown, then the work will enter the Public Domain at whichever is earlier:
- Year of publication + 50 years; or
- Year of creation + 75 years.

But, if one or more authors becomes known before the earlier of publication + 50 years / creation +75 years, then the work enters the Public Domain at death of the known author who dies last + 50 years.

(D) Work created for hire, i.e. in the course of employment In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the person who employed the author is first owner of copyright. However, the determination of whether a work is in the Public Domain still determined in reference to the life of the individual author.
- If the employer is corporation, organization or a municipality, see section (E) below.
- If the employer is an individual (a human being) or individuals, please see Section (A) or (B) above, as appropriate.

Note, if the work which was made in the course of employment is "an article or other contribution to a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical", then “there shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be deemed to be reserved to the author a right to restrain the publication of the work, otherwise than as part of a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical." (Copyright Act, section 13(3))

(E) Documents belonging to corporations, organizations, municipalities If the corporation, organization, or municipality that published the document knows who authored the document, then follow guidelines for Known Authors (Sections (A) or (B), as applicable).

If the corporation, organization, or municipality that published the document does not know who authored the document, then follow the guidelines for Pseudonymous/Anonymous Authors (Section (C), above)

2. Literary, dramatic or musical work, or engravings

(A) Published/publicly performed/communicated to the public before (last) creator's death Single Known Author/Creator: Enters the Public Domain 50 years after death of creator.

Multiple Authors/Creators (i.e. joint authorship): 50 years after the death of the last surviving creator/author.

(B) Never published/publicly performed /communicated to the public at time of (last) creator's death Was the work created on or after December 31st, 1998?
(a) If yes: Enters Public Domain 50 years after the death of (last surviving) author/creator.
(b) If no: Was the work published/performed/communicated publicly prior to December 31st, 1998?
→ If yes: Enters Public Domain 50 years after date of publication.
→ If no: When did the (last surviving) author/creator die?
- Before December 31, 1948: Enters Public Domain on January 1, 2004.
- Between December 31, 1948 and December 31, 1998, inclusive: Enters Public Domain on January 1, 2004.
- After December 31, 1998: Enters Public Domain 50 years after the death of (last surviving) author.

3. Images

a) Photographs (physical prints, not versions published in other media like books, online etc.)

Under the Copyright Modernization Act, the determination of whether a work is in the Public Domain is determined in reference to the life of the individual author (i.e. photographer). Prior to November 7, 2012, the term of copyright in photographs was dependent on whether the "owner" of the initial negative or plate (or, where there was no initial negative or plate, the initial photograph) was an individual or a corporation.

(A) Photographs taken on or after November 7, 2012 Enters Public Domain 50 years after the death of (last surviving) author; see and apply Sections 1(A)-(D), as appropriate.

Note that the rules concerning Posthumous Works do not apply to photographs.

Note, if the work which was made in the course of employment is "an article or other contribution to a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical", then “there shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be deemed to be reserved to the author a right to restrain the publication of the work, otherwise than as part of a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical." (Copyright Act, section 13(3))

(B) Photographs taken before November 7, 2012 Photographs taken before 1949 are in the Public Domain.

For photographs taken in or after 1949, was the owner of the initial negative/plate/photograph an individual or a corporation?

(a) Individual: Enters Public Domain 50 years after death of (last surviving) creator.
(b) Corporation: Was the creator of the photograph the majority shareholder of the owner corporation?
→ If yes: Enters Public Domain 50 years after death of (last surviving) creator (an individual).
→ If no: Was the photograph taken in or after 1962?
- Yes: Enters Public Domain 50 years after death of (last surviving) creator (an individual).
- No: Entered Public Domain 50 years after creation (i.e. now in the Public Domain).

Note that the rules concerning Posthumous Works do not apply to photographs.

Note, if the work which was made in the course of employment is "an article or other contribution to a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical", then “there shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be deemed to be reserved to the author a right to restrain the publication of the work, otherwise than as part of a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical." (Copyright Act, section 13(3))

b) Photographs and illustrations in books

Copyright ownership of photograph/illustration is stated in the book Enters Public Domain 50 years after death of (last surviving) author of photograph/illustration.
Copyright ownership of photograph/illustration is not stated in the book Enters Public Domain 50 years after death of the author of the book.

4. Cinematographic works or a compilation of cinematographic work

Determination of whether a cinematographic work or a compilation of cinematographic works depends on whether or not the work was published prior to December 31st of the 50th year following the work's creation If a work was not published before December 31st of the 50th year following its creation, then it is considered "unpublished".

Published (i.e. published prior to December 31st of the 50th year following its creation) Enters Public Domain 50 years following the date of publication.
Unpublished (i.e. not published prior to December 31st of the 50th year following its creation) Enters the Public Domain 50 years following the date of creation.

5. Government Publications

Source Published Unpublished
Federal government publications are protected by Crown Copyright Enters Public Domain 50 years after publication. Does not fall into Public Domain
Provincial government publications are protected by Crown Copyright Enters Public Domain 50 years after publication. Does not fall into Public Domain
Municipal government publications are not covered by Crown Copyright. Instead, works created by employees of a municipality are the same as any other work created by an employee for an employer (this can include departmental memos, policy documents, artwork, manuals, guidelines etc.). The municipality owns the copyright. For information about determining authorship of municipal publications, see Section 1(E), above. For information about determining authorship of municipal publications, see Section 1(E), above.