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The Basics of Copyright for the Canadian Music Industry

Article co-written and researched by Tyler Anthony

This article guides you through the basics of music copyright law in Canada.

Copyright is the exclusive right to copy or reproduce a piece of work, meaning nobody else can recreate, distribute, or reproduce it without the original author’s consent. In Canada, whoever creates or performs a musical work has the right to perform, publish, or record it.

Musical Works and Sound Recordings

In the music business, the most significant copyrights cover musical works and sound recordings.

Musical works include songs or compositions that may or may not contain lyrics.

Sound recordings are the specific recordings of musical works or other sounds.

Term of Protection and Registration

Copyright protection happens automatically after the creation of an original musical work and  generally lasts for 50 years from the end of the year in which the author dies.

While registration isn’t necessary, it serves as evidence that a copyright is owned by a specific  person. Producing a certificate of copyright registration raises the presumption that the individual holding the certificate owns the copyright to that piece of work.

What Does Copyright Actually Get You?

In Canada, the concept of copyright protection covers a broad range of topics.

Reproduction rights

In music, reproduction rights give the holder exclusive rights to copy a work of music. For example, the owner of a musical work has the right to publish it, put it in a movie, or copy the score without permission.

Reproduction rights also let others reproduce musical works through licensing agreements with other people or entities. If an artist lets another party reproduce their work, they’ll usually get compensated with royalties.

Distribution Rights

Distribution Rights are exclusive rights to distribute a musical work in any manner they chose, which could be Apple Music or a local music shop.

Performance Rights

Performance Rights are exclusive rights to perform a work of music in public settings like bars, supermarkets, or concert halls. Performance rights cover both live performances and the playback of musical recordings in live settings.

Performance rights also give copyright holders the right to publicly broadcast music on the radio, Spotify, or any other telecommunication service.

Publishing Rights are the sole rights to publish a musical work. As we explore in another blog article, this is potentially lucrative source of income for musical artists.

Neighbouring Rights

Neighbouring rights are essentially the rights to broadcast and publicly perform a particular recording via live performance or playback of a sound recording.

These rights are rather complex and run alongside the other rights we’ve already discussed in this article.

If a record label owns the rights to a sound recording, they are entitled to some form of remuneration whenever that song is broadcasted or performed in a live setting.

Performing musicians are entitled to some form of remuneration whenever their songs or sound recordings get played.

Later in this series, we discuss neighbouring rights and their associated royalties.

Moral Rights

In Canada, authors of creative works are provided with moral rights. There are two types of moral rights: integrity rights and paternity or credit rights.

  • Integrity rights mean that the author has the rights to the integrity of the work. This right gets infringed upon if there is any prejudice to the honour or reputation of the author, or if the work is distorted, manipulated or otherwise modified.
    For example, when the Beasty Boys used samples from The Beatles in their highly acclaimed album, Paul’s Boutique, they may have breached the integrity rights of The Beatle’s music.
  • Paternal or credit rights give the author of a musical work the right to be associated with it by name or pseudonym. Paternal or credit rights also let authors remain anonymous.

When an author wants to be associated to a work as the author or creator, they have that right – even if they don’t have the economic rights to the work.

Moral rights, unlike the other rights stated above, are attributed to authors separately from rights to the work.
Finally, moral rights can’t be assigned, which means you can’t transfer them to a third party when you sign a record deal. They can only be waived, either in part or in whole.

Know Your Music Rights

We’ve provided a broad overview of copyrights and ownership in the Canadian music industry.

Knowing your rights as an artist can help you make better decisions, especially if you ever assign or license your music to third parties like record companies or distribution platforms.

Note that the copyrights for sound recordings are separate from copyrights for musical works – a concept we explore further in our next blog article on music ownership.



Phone: 403-718-9877

Written by:

Claudius is an experienced commercial lawyer who specializes in acquisitions, financing, and securities law in relation to corporate commercial law.


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