Last Saturday, on October 2nd, SONSI members along with the University of Toronto Biomedical Communication students and BMC alumni group held a question and answer session with Paul Sanderson.  Paul is a lawyer specializing in the arts, including visual art and copyright law.


Paul at the podium


Paul was a terrific speaker, clear, and able to break down not only what the law outlines, but how it’s typically interpreted. He also had come ready to answer every question posed on our previous post, which was greatly appreciated.

Copyright and how it’s changing are areas I’ve been in for a long time, as all artists and illustrators should be.  I won’t be able to note all of the information Paul shared with us during those 3 hours, but here are a few of the points I found most interesting.  [Keep in mind this only reflects my personal understanding of the presentation and q&a – I’m not a lawyer!]

-Copyright law is currently undergoing revision in Canada, with a bill set to go through 2nd reading.  The challenge is for lawmakers to balance the rights of the creators with the rights of the users.

-Copyrights can be inherited through a Will.  Typical copyright lasts for the copyright holder’s life, + 50 years.

-You cannot have an oral agreement to transfer copyright of an idea to another person: in Canada, it has to be in writing.

-The only times the person commissioning a work of art automatically holds the copyright is when the work is a photo, portrait, or engraving, unless your agreement stipulates otherwise.

-When you get your wedding photos or pay a painter for a portrait, you own the copyright, not the artist, unless your agreement stipulates otherwise.

-Moral Copyright is a Canadian thing: in the U.S.A., provisions to prevent the mutilation or bad-faith association of a work must be included in the contract instead.

-A group or corporation cannot create a copyright.  That means an individual in an arts collective who created a work would have to in writing transfer the copyright to the collective.

-Currently in Canada, parody and satire are not protected.  If a political cartoonist makes fun of something held under copyright and re-creates it, they are liable.

-Fair use is American.  Fair dealing is Canadian.


The crowd at the SONSI/BMC event.


-Fair dealing doesn’t grant educators unlimited rights to use material under copyright without permission:  Paul recommended the guide Copyright Matters by Wanda Noel, which you can read the pdf for free here.

-An important distinction for educators and teachers to note is that while information is free, the form of expression is not necessarily free.

-You can read about the Copyright Modernization Act here.

Creative Commons Licences have been upheld in courts of law 4 times that Paul discovered: in the Netherlands, in Spain and twice in the U.S.

-Although you own the copyright from the moment of inception of a work (the actual work, not the idea for it) it can be a good idea to register your copyright in case you are worried about infringement.  However, Paul recommended registering in each country where you fear it will be infringed upon.  You can register and find information about registering at .  You can register many works under 1 title, for example if you were working on a series of book illustrations. When registering in Canada, you do not need to provide copies of the images being registered.

-Paul mentioned that if you forward an illustration to an editor, and the editor subsequently forwards the image to many contacts, that arguably counts as the editor publishing without permission. Seems to me a good reason to use a password protected ftp uploading site.


Thanks to the BMC for bringing food and coffee!


It was a terrific day, and a few of us stopped to grab a bite to eat afterward and chat.

Thanks so much to our SONSI president Emily S. Damstra for organizing this event and to Katie and Nicholas of the Biomedical Communications department for their help and getting a room at U of T.  Thanks especially to Paul Sanderson for his humour, clarity and excellent discussion.

-Glendon Mellow

A few extra links about copyright and copyright discussions:

Why the copyright wars matter by Cory Doctorow,

Copyright in the new digital world – by Glendon Mellow, Art Evolved

Copyright Infringers Target Wildlife Artists – by Daniel Grant, Huffington Post

Individual Rights Versus the Collective – by The Illustrators Partnership