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Copyright FAQs

A Christmas Carol – Keyano Theatre Company
Photo Credits

Abstracted from Canadian Copyright Law E-Lessons by Lesley Ellen Harris; 2002-2020

Canadian Copyright laws protect the expression of ideas.

In Canada, a piece is automatically protected by copyright as soon as it’s created as long as it is original (not copied from anywhere), is expressed in a material format which can be identified, and has a more or less permanent endurance or is ‘fixed’ in that format, even if just saved digitally on a computer. For copyright protection in Canada, the author must be Canadian. For example, a manuscript saved on your computer’s hard drive is protected by copyright. An improv session may not be considered protected because it is not necessarily ‘fixed’ in a permanent manner.

Because Canada is part of the Berne Convention, copyright protection is available to Canadian works in other countries that are also part of the Convention. In turn, other works from these member countries, will have copyright protection in Canada. Copyright protection currently lasts a minimum of 50 years after the death of the author. After the USMCA agreement is in force, the number will rise to 70 years.

The Canadian Copyright Act grants copyright owners the sole and exclusive right to reproduce, perform or publish a work. Copyright holders have control over how their creations are used, and are able to benefit (monetarily and otherwise) from the exploitation of their work. Copyright also protects the reputation of creators and the right of performers.

What does copyright protect in theatre?

The answer is: many things, including:

  • Literary works / written documents: scripts, letters, contracts, blog posts, books, emails
  • Dramatic works: scenic arrangement or acting form of which is fixed in writing or otherwise, films, videos
  • Musical works / scores: music composition, scores, recorded music performances
  • Arrangements or adaptations (provided it meets the general criteria for copyright protection, including originality)
  • Artisitic works – works of artistic craftsmanship, photographs, paintings

This means that however you are producing your performance, you need to secure rights or use original works. Publishers are a good place to start to check for who owns the rights to scripts, and usually that information is within the first few pages of the published script. In general, if the script is unpublished, you need to get permission from the playwright to perform the script.

FYI, The Playwrights Guild of Canada clears copyright for amateur and educational public performance of English language plays.

What about music in a production?

Three copyrights may exist when a sound recording (including sound effect recordings) is involved in your production:

  • the sound recording may be protected by copyright;
  • there may be copyright in any protected works embodied on the sound recording;
  • the performer’s performance may be copyrighted.

Generally speaking, most music copyrights are assigned to a music publisher, and must be cleared through them.

If you intend to use music in your performance, or intend to play music in the lobby or theatre prior to the show, you need to obtain rights to play that music. (If you decide to use a radio broadcast, the rights have already been looked after.) These rights may be obtained through the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) and/or Re:Sound Music Licensing.

Musical theatre productions must obtain performance rights directly from the copyright owner (i.e. Musical Theatre International)

Reminder: whenever you are looking at obtaining rights in Canada for your production, and are doing research on the web, make sure that you are viewing Canadian sources, as US and Canadian copyright laws are similar, but different.

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