Why Bother with Canadian Copyright Registration?

A question from a friend about Canadian copyright registration:
Hey, Brit!I’ve got a question for you.

In Canada, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office is where people can register patents, trademarks, copyrights and industrial designs. I don’t know how good their non-‘copyright registration’ services are. This is a question about copyright registration.

It says on their website:

“A poem, painting, musical score, performer’s performance and a computer program are all valuable creations worth protecting.

Although copyright in a work exists automatically when an original work is created, a certificate of registration is evidence that your creation is protected by copyright and that you, the person registered, are the owner. It can be used in court as evidence of ownership.”

http://www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/h_wr00003.html

When I registered the copyright of a written work with the CIPO about two years ago (I did an online registration), I filled out the author information, the title of the work, the payment information and then… the registration process had come to an end. They did not ask for a copy of the work that I was registering.

I found out later, buried in their FAQ, that they don’t keep a copy of the work that is being registered. So a friend and I phoned the CIPO and asked them if they keep a copy of the work. They said no. We asked, ‘What if someone registers a copyright that isn’t connected to any work, if a person makes up a title out of thin air and registers a piece of work that doesn’t actually exist, and then, several years later, that person steals someone else’s work and claims in court that they registered that work several years earlier and they show their copyright registration?’ The person at CIPO said that there has been cases where that happened. Then we asked how a person is supposed to prove that they’re the author and that someone is trying to steal their work, and the guy at CIPO said that the person would have to show evidence of authorship and that it’s up to a court to decide.

Last week or so, I phoned CIPO again and asked this question, and the guy (it sounded like the same person from two years ago) said that all works are automatically protected by copyright. He said that copyright registration is not mandatory and that it’s just there for a copyright holder to register their claim of copyright. He basically gave me the same answer that I got about two years ago: that if I wanted to prove my authorship in court, I would have to present some evidence of authorship and let the court decide. When I asked him what good copyright registration is then, he told me that it’s a document honored by Canadian courts.

The impression that I got was that copyright registration in Canada is useless.

So my question is based on the statement on the CIPO website:

“…a certificate of registration is evidence that your creation is protected by copyright and that you, the person registered, are the owner. It can be used in court as evidence of ownership.”

Could a Canadian copyright registration be used as evidence in court? And what kind of evidence?

In my opinion, I don’t see how it can be used as evidence at all if the CIPO has never even seen the work that you claim to have created and doesn’t even know whether or not that work exists.

Fun question! For starters, I don’t have much experience with Canadian copyright, other than comparing it to US copyright. I did a smidge of research on your question, and you have it about right. However, I wouldn’t come to the conclusion that registration is entirely worthless in litigation. In short, it presents an obstacle to anyone challenging your copyright. It shifts the burden of proof, so that if you sue someone for copying your registered song, the Canadian court will assume that you own a valid copyright in the song until proven otherwise. It has been described as a “procedural advantage,” and likely has persuasive powers in a cease and desist letter, but Canadian copyright registration is obviously not a silver bullet in litigation.  It is roughly the same in the US, although because you must submit a deposit copy in the US, it has stronger evidentiary value (as well as other advantages like access to statutory damages).

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