Copyright protection in Canada is afforded under the Copyright Act. Copyright protection is granting to authors of original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work for a limited period of time. Quality and legality of work are not relevant for copyright protection. Copyright prevents unauthorized copying only, and only protects expressions fixed in a tangible medium. Ideas alone cannot be copyrighted, but an author's unique expression of an idea is copyrightable. The creator of the original work owns the copyright and may transfer his or her right by sale or a gift. An employee of a startup who creates a copyrightable work during and within the scope of employment loses his right in favor of the employer. On the other hand, a person who creates a work under written agreement to commission a work is deemed to be the owner of the copyright.
Like the United States, Canada is a party to the Universal Copyright Convention. Thus, each country is committed to giving the same protection to the other's copyrighted works as it gives to the works of its own nationals. Unlike the United States, Canada is also a party to the Berne Copyright Convention. As a member of the Berne Convention, Canada is committed to a copyright regime that provides automatic protection without formalities for copyrightable works. There is no requirement in Canada to register a copyrightable work or to deposit such a work with any regulatory authority.
In Canada registration of copyrightable works is permitted on a voluntary basis and does provide advantages in terms of establishing proof of ownership, especially in the case of assignments of copyright. In Canada, copyright grants the author exclusive rights to the material for the author's life plus 50 years. A copyright holder receives the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, perform, or display the work. These rights are subject to the “good cause or excuse” and the "fair dealing" doctrines. The good cause suggests that a person may deal with otherwise copyrighted material in a matter of public interest. In contrast, the fair dealing doctrine permits use of copyrighted work for the purposes of private study, research, criticism, review or newspaper summary.
In Canada software startups may obtain protection of computer code under the Copyright Act. Computer programs, both in source code and object code and whether on paper, magnetic medium or semiconductor chip, will obtain protection for the period of the life of the author plus 50 years. Copying computer code is copyright infringement. Even non-literal copying of a program’s structure, such as flow of algorithms and organization modules, is an infringement. However, the features of a program, ideas, methods and principles are not protected and can be copied. Therefore, copyright of a program user interface and its screen layout could not be obtained. Copying semiconductor topology is also copyright infringement and semiconductor startups may obtain protection under Integrated Circuit Topography Act, which gives ten years of protection from the earlier of the date when the application for protection was filed or when the topography was first commercially used.
The Copyright Act extends moral rights to computer programs (i.e. the right of an author to claim authorship and to prevent any distortion or alteration of the work or its association with products that would prejudice his reputation). Canada has decided not to follow the lead of countries like the United Kingdom where moral rights are denied to authors of computer programs. Finally, the Copyright Act provides for penalties for infringement. Every person who knowingly makes for sale or hire any infringing copy of a work in which copyright subsists, or who offers such copies for sale or hire, or who imports such copies into Canada, will be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $25,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six (6) months or to both, or on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding $1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five (5) years or to both.