Determining Public Domain Status
Canada and the Public Domain
Although there are exceptions, published works enter the public domain 50 years after the death of the author. At that point permissions are no longer required for reproduction or distribution.
This section of the website is intended to provide more detailed information on making a determination as to whether or not a work is in the Public Domain in Canada and highlight further resources to consult if necessary. It is not intended to definitively answer questions around specific works. In some cases even if you have determined that a work is in the Public Domain, copyright protection may still exist for parts of the work (photographs, etc.) where the author(s) did not hold copyright. If you have checked the status of a work and are still uncertain, please contact the Dalhousie Copyright Office.
Determining the status of a work can sometimes be a complicated endeavour where the Public Domain is concerned. This is due primarily to the fact that ownership and duration of copyright depends on a work's authorship and the format of the work.
When attempting to make a determination as to whether or not a work is in the Public Domain in Canada there are a number of different factors to take into consideration. These factors are: Authorship; Literary, dramatic or musical work or engravings; Images; Cinematographic works or a compilation of cinematographic work; and Government Publications.
For greater detail and visual representation of works entering the Public Domain, please consult the University of Alberta's Public Domain Flowchart.
When looking at the authorship of a work there are five distinct categories into which a work may be classified:
- Known Single Author
- Known Multiple Authors
- Pseudonymous/Anonymous Author(s)
- Work Created for Hire (i.e. in the course of employment)
- Documents Belonging to Corporations, Organizations, Municipalities
When looking at authorship, whether or not the work has been published will also impact when a work will enter the Public Domain.
Literary, Dramatic or Musical Works or Engravings
When looking at this type of work, there are two distinct categories into which it may be classified.
- Published/publicly performed/communicated to the public before the (last) creator's death.
- Never published/publicly performed/communicated to the public before the (last) creator's death.
Under the Copyright Modernization Act, the determination of whether a work is in the Public Domain is determined in reference to the life of the individual author (i.e. photographer). Prior to November 7, 2012, the term of copyright in photographs was dependent on whether the "owner" of the initial negative or plate (or where there was none, the initial photograph) was an individual or corporation. When looking at works that are image based the following distinctions are to be made:
Photographs (physical prints, not versions published in other media like books, online, etc.)
- Photographs taken on or after November 7, 2012
- Photographs taken before November 7, 2012
Photographs and illustrations in books
- Copyright ownership of photograph/illustration is stated in the book
- Copyright ownership of photograph/illustration is not stated in the book
Cinematographic Works or a Compilation of Cinematographic Works
Determination of whether or not a cinematographic work or a compilation of cinematographic works depends on whether or not the work was published prior to December 31st of the 50th year following its creation. If the work was not published before December 31st of the 50th year following it's creation, then it is considered to be unpublished.
Published (i.e. published prior to Dec. 31 of the 50th year following its creation) a work would enter the Public Domain 50 years following the date of publication.
Unpublished (i.e. not published prior to Dec. 31 of the 50th year following its creation) a work would enter the Public Domain 50 years following the date of its creation.
In Canada, works produced by the federal and provincial governments are protected by Crown Copyright. Works produced by municipal governments are not covered by Crown Copyright.
- Federal Government Works - enter the Public Domain 50 years after publication; if unpublished, they do not enter the Public Domain. Although still under crown copyright, recent changes allow non-commercial use of Federal Government Works without permission.
- Provincial Government Works - enter the Public Domain 50 years after publication; if unpublished, they do not enter the Public Domain.
- Municipal Government Works - works created by employees of a municipality are governed by the rules as a work created by an employee for an employer. The municipality would own and retain the copyright. These type of documents would be follow the rules for known authors and/or anonymous authors depending on if the municipality knows the identity of the person responsible for creating the document.