Copyright infringement

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The Copyright Act grants a number of exclusive rights and moral rights to the authors of original works, for example the exclusive right to reproduce them or to communicate them to the public. The Copyright Act also provides other related rights to performers, makers of sound recordings and broadcasters of communication signals.

These exclusive rights and related rights exist to promote the creation and distribution of Canadian content, to foster investment and job creation, and to create a thriving marketplace that supports innovation and consumer choice.

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when a person uses content protected by copyright in a way that violates rights granted in the Copyright Act, for example by copying or communicating to the public a copyrighted work (all or a substantial part of it) without authorization from the owner of the copyright.

There are 2 types of infringement:

  • Direct or primary infringement
    This type of infringement includes doing anything that only the owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to do, for example, copying a work or communicating to the public a sound recording without the copyright owner's consent. Direct infringement can occur even if the infringer does not realize that copying the work infringes someone else's copyright.
  • Indirect or secondary infringement
    This type of infringement takes place when someone knows (or should have known) that a work or content infringes someone else's copyright and sells, rents out, distributes or imports the work or content without the owner's consent.

Only a court of law can rule whether infringement of copyright has occurred. If a court finds that infringement has occured, the guilty person could be liable to pay damages to the copyright owner.

Owners' and authors' rights

Copyright deals with owners' rights as well as authors' and performers' moral rights. Moral rights cannot be assigned to another party, but they can be waived.

Owners' rights

Owners have the following rights:

  • to first distribute an unpublished work and make copies of it (or a substantial part of it) and making it available to the public
  • to reproduce the work in any material form (e.g. make a shorter version, translate, adapt)
  • to perform the work in public
  • to communicate the work to the public by telecommunication
  • to exhibit an artistic work in public

The Copyright Act also provides tools to help copyright owners protect their rights in the digital realm and prevent infringement. For example, the Copyright Act allows copyright owners to protect their works with technological protection measures such as digital locks and prohibits others from circumventing those protection measures.

Authors' and performers' moral rights

Authors' and performers' rights include moral rights. In Canada, there are 2 types of moral rights:


Attribution gives authors and performers the right to be identified as the author of a work, for example, in the credits of a film, with the signature on a painting or by naming the author on a literary work. It also gives authors the right to remain anonymous, if they choose.


Integrity gives authors and performers ways to preserve their good name and reputation:

Distortion and mutilation: Copyrighted works and performers' performances cannot be altered, referred to or used in a derogatory way without the author's permission. The work is also protected from being destroyed without first being offered back to the author.

Association: Authors can choose what contexts their work is used in. An undesirable association may threaten an author's good name or reputation. The author can prevent someone else from using the work in association with a product, service, cause or institution without the author's permission.


The rights in the Copyright Act are subject to various limitations and exceptions. For example, you can use copyrighted work for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire. You can also reproduce copyrighted work to ensure interoperability of computer programs or for backup copies.

Talk to a legal counsel if you are unsure about using copyrighted work without the authorization of the copyright owner.


While the Canadian Intellectual Property Office grants intellectual property (IP) rights such as trademarks, patents, industrial designs and copyright, it does not police granted rights or monitor the marketplace for potential infringement.

Enforcement of IP rights is the responsibility of the IP holder, not the IP office.

Who can sue for copyright infringement

  • The owner of the copyright
  • Any person deriving any right, title or interest from the owner by assignment or grant in writing
  • Exclusive licensees (they can sue in their own name) and non-exclusive licensees

What you need

To establish a claim for copyright infringement, you must be able to prove the following:

  • copyright subsists in the work or content in question
  • you are the owner of the copyright in the work or content
  • the work or content (or elements of it) was infringed

When to enforce your copyright

All actions for infringement must generally be brought within 3 years from the time someone "ought to have known" about the act of infringement. If someone has circumvented a technological protection measure such as a digital lock, this time limit is 2 years.

Deadlines for launching a lawsuit depend on the specifics of the case and the laws where the infringement took place. Consider consulting a lawyer for more details.


If a court finds that copyright was infringed, the copyright owner can be compensated in several ways, such as the following:

  • statutory damages (based on an amount set by law)
  • actual damages (calculated based on the harm)
  • an injunction (a special court order to stop someone from doing something)

Get professional help

Solving conflicts involving IP rights is often complex. Consult an IP professional, such as an IP agent or lawyer, to discuss the next steps if you believe your IP rights are being infringed upon.

If IP infringement is happening in another country, a Canadian IP professional may be able to coordinate with an IP professional in the other country to enforce your IP rights.


Learn about how to stop others from using your IP unlawfully and enforce your IP rights.