Copyright covers the copying or communication of a work or a substantial part of a work. Copyright is an exclusive right given to copyright holders to copy, manipulate, perform or communicate works (including their right to seek compensation for their efforts). In Canada, copyright automatically subsists in any original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic expression in fixed form, regardless of its merit. Performances are also protected. A performance does not have to be an artistic one, it can also be a speech or a lecture. It does not become a copyright issue until there is a fixation (such as a recording) or the performance is broadcast or live streamed over the web.
In Canada, copyright protects only original work. A work must originate from its author, be more than a copy of another work and involve skill and judgment in its creation, not just a trivial or mechanical compilation of data. Effort, or "sweat of the brow" alone in the compilation of a database, for example, does not provide sufficient grounds for copyright. A phonebook cannot be copyrighted, as it is a mechanical compilation of data.
It is "fixation" that distinguishes between an expression and an idea. Copyright does not extend to ideas, facts or news. Copyright protects the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself. Copyright does not protect methods, plots, characters, titles, names, short phrases or slogans, although some of these may be protected through patents or trade-marks.
The author of a work is usually the copyright owner. A copyright owner may assign or licence rights to a work. In the case of published works, copyright is often assigned to a publisher who then retains the copyright. When seeking permission to use a copyrighted work, keep in mind that the originating author may not be the rights holder.
Copyright law in the common law tradition was created to promote the public interest. It seeks to promote creativity and the dissemination of knowledge. The Statute of Anne, passed by the British parliament in 1710, was the first copyright Act and sought the "Encouragement of Learning" through granting rights of copyright. The U.S. constitution instituted copyright “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Thus, copyright law seeks to give creators sufficient control over their works, and the opportunity to gain from their works, to give incentive to the creative process and to the wide dissemination of works. These broader objectives of copyright law operate in the public interest and supercede any strictly economic conception of copyright as "intellectual property." This has been clearly reflected in the numerous copyright rulings from the Canadian Supreme Court over the last sixteen years.
Also in the public interest, the rights of creators in copyright is limited. Copyrighted works may sometimes be used without the need to ask permission or pay a royalty. One way the Copyright Act accomplishes this is to provide term limits on copyright. In Canada, in most cases, copyright expires 50 years after the death of the creator at which point their works enter the public domain. A second way this is accomplished is through fair dealing rights and exceptions for users of copyrighted works.
The Copyright Act provides moral rights for creators. Moral rights protect the right of a creator to be identified as a work’s author and the right to remain anonymous or use a pseudonym. Moral rights protect the integrity of a work and the manner in which a work may be associated so as to prevent the work or the author from being affected prejudicially. While the copyright in a work may be licensed or assigned to another, moral rights can only be retained by the creator or waived completely.
Citing acknowledges the ideas of others and is required whether or not a work is in copyright. Citing avoids plagiarism, but is not a substitute for acquiring copyright permissions when needed.