Canadian librarians and international copyright law go hand-in-hand. This article explains what Canadian librarians need to know about Canadian and global copyright law in order to manage the use of content in their libraries and organizations and keep unauthorized uses of copyright-protected materials to a minimum.
Why Canadian Librarians and International Copyright?
In the pre-internet days, global copyright management and compliance included photocopying an article in a Canadian office and mailing or faxing it to an office in London, England. With the internet, an enterprise is faced with a myriad of new copyright issues, from posting an audio recording on its website, to accessing a licensed database from abroad, to dealing with rights such as moral rights, which greatly vary from country to country.
It’s important to understand that most digital and online uses of copyright-protected works may involve international copyright issues.
Keeping up with technology is difficult enough, so where does a librarian begin grappling with global copyright issues that affect their day-to-day management of content?
First: Know Canadian Copyright Law
Being knowledgeable about Canadian copyright law is number one on the list of things a Canadian librarian needs to know about global copyright compliance. This applies to librarians in all kinds of libraries from corporate, government and legal libraries to libraries in educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. And definitely know the following general guideline:
- Your own country’s (i.e., Canada’s) copyright law will continue to govern the majority of your copyright use issues.
Second: Be Aware that Copyright Laws Vary Among Countries
Second, you should be aware that copyright laws vary from country to country. Even a country as close as the U.S. has very different copyright laws than Canada. For example:
- Moral rights protection is much stronger in Canada than in the U.S.
- The U.S. fair use doctrine does not exist in Canada (though Canada has fair dealing)
- In the U.S., the duration of copyright protection is life of the author plus 70 years after their death; in Canada, the duration of copyright protection is life of the author plus 50 years after their death
As a further example, in countries like France and Italy, the copyright acts protect moral rights (paternity and integrity of an author) in perpetuity and these rights cannot be assigned to another person or waived. There are few exceptions or limitations on the rights of copyright owners in these countries. On the other hand, moral rights can be waived in Canada and expire when copyright expires.
Third: Understand There’s No International Copyright Law
Third, you should understand there’s no such thing as international copyright law. However, there are copyright treaties and the leading one is the Berne Convention. It’s up to Berne member countries to amend their laws to meet the minimum standards Berne requires of member countries. (There are currently 176 Berne member countries and this number changes from time to time.)
As an example of how Berne works, Berne provides a minimum copyright protection of 50 years from the author’s death (life-plus-fifty). Many countries, Canada included, follow this minimum standard. However, countries are free to provide a longer period of copyright duration. As an illustration of this point …
- The U.S. and European Union countries, among others, protect copyright works for the life of the author plus 70 years after their death. This means that if you use a copyright-protected work in the U.S., you have to clear the copyright in the work if the author has been not been dead for 70 years.
- If you use the same work in Canada, you may freely use it if the author has been dead for 50 years.
- However, if you’re using that work on a website accessible around the world — and following the rule that you apply the law of the country where the work is being used — even if you’re located in Canada, you would clear the rights for life-plus-seventy to “cover yourself” for access from the U.S. and other countries with the longer duration of copyright protection.
You may be interested in our article
Canadian Copyright Law: What Is the Duration of Copyright in Canada?
In many circumstances, your license agreements for digital content (such as databases and periodicals) will govern terms and conditions for using such content. Examples of clauses you need to consider from a global perspective include:
- The Authorized Users clause may state that employees in your Canadian library or office may use the licensed content, or it may allow those same Canadian employees to access the content from outside of Canada.
- The definition of Authorized Users may extend to content users in other countries. Check your existing licenses, and keep these issues in mind when negotiating future licenses.
Also important from a global perspective are the governing law and dispute resolution clauses in your licenses. These clauses set out:
- Which provincial and national laws will govern the interpretation of the contract (should that be necessary)
- Where any agreed upon mediation/arbitration may take place
- In what jurisdiction any litigation would take place
Keep in mind that although litigation between content owners and libraries is rare, your licenses do and should address such a possibility. It’s always best for the governing law, jurisdiction for any mediation/arbitration and litigation, to be in your own jurisdiction, as your lawyers are likely more familiar with that law. Also, it would likely be less expensive to resolve such disputes without the cost and time to travel for that purpose.
Canadian librarians also have to consider the currency of payment for license fees, whether taxes are applicable to those fees and who is responsible to pay those taxes (e.g., VAT) when licensing content from a vendor or publisher outside of Canada.
You may be interested in our online course Introduction to Digital Licensing.
Become a copyright manager and leader in your library or organization.
See our Certificate in Canadian Copyright Law program.