Copyright is a form of property. Under Canadian law, a musical work is copyrighted if its author is still living, or if the author died less than 50 years ago. If more than one author created the work, copyright extends until 50 years after the death of the last surviving author. In the language of copyright, “author” means both the composer of the music and the lyricist. If more than 50 years have elapsed, the work is said to be “in the public domain”. This means that there is no copyright and, in effect, no one owns it. An arrangement of a public domain work, however, is itself copyrighted for the life of the arranger plus 50 years.
The owner of a copyright has certain exclusive rights regarding the use of the musical work. Put simply, this means that he or she is the only person that can make copies of the work or perform it in public, and is the only person that can authorize others to do the same. If a person exercises those rights without the copyright holder’s consent, such use is called an infringement of the copyright and is subject to civil and criminal proceedings.