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Copyright for Photography


This guide introduces foundational concepts for understanding copyright as it applies to photography. 


Photo by Tim Gomes from Pexels

What is Copyright?

Copyright is one branch of intellectual property. Other branches include patents, trademarks, and industrial design.

It protects all original literary, artistic, dramatic, and musical worksThis includes books, films, paintings, sculptures, photographs, graphic designs, and even computer code (which is textual or 'literary' in nature).

Originality is an important concept in copyright law. A work must be considered original to earn copyright protection.

What Does Copyright Protect?

Copyright protects the expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself. So, if someone scoops an idea you had for a shot, it is unethical but not necessarily copyright infringement. 

How Long Does Copyright Last?

In Canada, copyright lasts for the life of the creator +70 years

Thereafter, copyright expires and the work enters the public domain. Works in the public domain can be used freely without payment or permission from the copyright owner. 

What Does the Copyright Symbol © Mean?

The copyright symbol © we are accustomed to seeing is optional. It is a visual reminder that a work is protected by copyright. All online works are protected by copyright, unless there is a notice stating otherwise. 

What is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when a person does something with a copyright-protected work that only the copyright owner is entitled to do (i.e. copy, distribute, display, perform, or adapt a work) without the copyright owner's permission.

How Do I Protect My Work?

Copyright protection is automatic. A work is protected by copyright as soon as it is fixed in physical or digital format. For example, a photograph is protected by copyright as soon as it is captured on film or saved to a memory card.

Creators also have the option to register their copyright with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. This serves as proof of ownership if needed. You can search for registered works in the Canadian Copyright Database.

Please note that the information provided on this site is for educational purposes and is not intended as legal advice.