Copyright is the exclusive right to produce, reproduce, perform or publish a work. In Canada, copyright exists automatically in an original work as soon as the work is created, without any registration required.  Under international agreement, copyright in literary works lasts for the author's lifetime, plus at least 50 years. Copyright is considered "intellectual property" and can be bought, sold, assigned, even included as a part of a will to be passed on to heirs.

 Who owns copyright to work written by freelancers?

The freelancer owns the copyright to all his/her work unless the copyright to the work is "assigned" to someone else by written agreement. Canadian law holds that in the absence of a signed agreement to the contrary, the only right being licensed to someone purchasing a work from a freelancer is "first Canadian rights." This means simply that the purchaser is licensing the right to publish the work once in Canada in print form.

It is important to note that all electronic media use of a freelancer's work requires specific contractual agreements between the freelancer and the purchaser. Electronic uses of freelance work are not covered under the standard assignment of rights contained in the "first Canadian rights" convention that generally governs work acquired without a written agreement. Any written agreement should clearly delineate what rights are or are not being licensed to the client by the freelancer.

What rights does a client buy from a freelancer?

In reality the word "buy" is a misnomer. A client purchasing work from a freelance writer is actually licensing specific rights to use the work in clearly defined ways. There are many types of rights that can be licensed, as follows:

First rights: the right to use a work for the first time.

Second rights: the right to use a work for the second time.

Publication rights: the right to use a work in a specific published form. "Serial" rights refer to use in a "serial publication," such as a magazine or newspaper.

Territorial rights: based on geographical area and often combined with first rights. For example, "first Canadian rights" means the buyer has the right to publish the work for the first time in Canada.

Electronic rights: refers to licensing a work for commercial use in electronic form, e.g., on an electronic database, computer disk, CD-ROM.

Language rights: covers translation of a work into specific languages.

Reprographic rights: refers to making duplicate copies of a work, such as photocopies.

Unlike the licensing rights defined above, moral rights are normally retained by the creator no matter who controls the copyright to the work. Moral rights refer to the creator's right to claim authorship—or remain anonymous—and prevent distortion and modification of the work. Moral rights also protect a work's integrity, preventing the work from being used in a way or associated with a product that would jeopardize the author's reputation. Moral rights last for the same period of time as copyright—the creator's lifetime, plus 50 years.

If you are a freelancer, you need to be well informed about copyright law, and how it affects you.

If you are a purchaser of freelance material, you need to be aware of how copyright law in Canada works.

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