Many writers have questions about copyright. What is it? How do I get it? How do I protect it?

In its simplest form, copyright is the right to make copies of a particular work. In Canada, as soon as you write something you hold the copyright on the work. The exception to this is if you work full-time for a company and it is your job to write for them. The copyright would belong to the company. An example of this would be a full-time reporter at a newspaper. The newspaper would hold the copyright on that person’s work. So, unless you work for someone writing full-time or have expressly assigned your copyright to someone else, you hold the copyright to your writing. 

You cannot hold a copyright on a name, or idea, or plot or character. You can only hold copyright on the entirety of a work, a whole novel or a complete short story. 

A lot of people confuse trademarks with copyright. A trademark is a type of intellectual property law which protects commercial intellectual property. Trademarks allow companies to protect their logos, brands, and images. So, for instance, you can’t open a fast food restaurant called McDonna’s and use a golden, stylized “M” as your restaurant logo. McDonald’s could sue you for trademark infringement. You would intentionally be confusing the marketplace and be trying to benefit monetarily from that confusion. 

I used a have lawyer friend who would say “comparing copyright infringement to trademark infringement is like comparing jaywalking to manslaughter.” He was being a bit colourful in his comparison, but it is a good point. I’ll talk about that next week.

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