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Copyright is the right given to the author of written material by the government.  In the simplest terms, "copyright" means "the right to copy".  Rights are derived automatically from any original literary and creative works, such as; literary, dramatic, artistic, and musical works (including computer software).  Copyright lasts varying times after creation in different countries, but generally lasts 50 to 75 years after the death of the author(s).

Copyrights include moral rights, which protects the author’s right of; attribution and integrity

Work must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression (eg. ebooks, blog posts, courses, videos, pictures).  However, it’s a good idea to use proper marking for your copyright:

  • © for most copyright work
  • ℗ for phonographic work (sound recordings)
  • Example: © or ℗ 2022 John Doe

Since copyright only applies to the exact form of the work, two similar stories or pieces of computer code do not necessarily infringe upon each other, and the content of the work would not be owned by the copyright holder. A musician may record a song and own the copyright on the performance but not the lyrics to the song if someone else wrote it.

Like a patent, copyright gives the author the right to prevent others from reproducing and selling their copyrighted work. Unlike patents, no registration or application needs to be made for copyright to be granted―it exists as soon as the work is created. That said, it is much easier to prove authorship if it is registered.

Computer Software – Copyright or Patent?

As mentioned, computer software is literary work that has automatic copyright protection.  Copyright protection extends only to the code itself, and not the functionality.

Patents are granted to computer software that implement new processes.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) typically falls under literary works under the Canadian Copyright Act.  AI can be patented if it is not the whole invention, but rather one of several essential elements in a novel combination. 

For example, using existing AI algorithms to detect patterns in data is likely not patentable due to lack of novelty and obviousness. However, claims around system, process and/or method incorporating an original and novel AI algorithm may be patentable in some limited cases.

For software, copyrights are often a preferable form of IP protection over patents.  Patents typically cost thousands of dollars and years to issue, while copyrights take little time and money.  Plus, software products or services have a short life cycle, which makes the patent process less compatible form of protection.  In addition, the scope of patentability of software has been limited by recent court cases, thus making copyright protection the preferred IP strategy for many businesses.

Research Data – can I protect it?

Data that is factual has no copyright protection.  Most research data is considered factual.  For example, daily temperature readings from a sensor, the height of an individual in a survey, symptoms of patients, color characterization of plant specimens are all factual or raw data. The Additionally, where data analysis is scientifically driven – and not creatively driven – analyzed data also is not likely to qualify for copyright either.

Having said that, when combining data into a database, it can have a thin layer of copyright protection.  Determining on what data to include into a database, how to assemble the data, and how to correlate different data elements are all creative decisions that may receive copyright protection

Copyrights registration benefits

While unregistered copyrights works can have some protection, here are the benefits for registered copyrights:

  • Provides public record of ownership
  • Necessary to enforce against infringement
  • Eligible for statutory damages

 Here is a short video about copyrights by Innovation, Science and Economics Development Canada:

Online resources available for searching through registered copyrights include: