Frequently Asked Questions about Intellectual Property

Last updated on July 6, 2023

What is copyright?

Copyright is an exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish and sell a work or material.  Copyright encompasses a wide range of materials including:

  • written materials, such as books, manuals, reports and computer software;
  • visual materials such as videos, photographs, pictures, posters and maps; and
  • audio materials such as music and voice recordings. 

Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts or themes.  It protects the expression of ideas, concepts or themes in a fixated format or medium.  For example, a book in its printed form is what attracts copyright as does a song in a downloadable mp3 format. 

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement is the reproduction, distribution and/or publication of a material or any substantial part of a material without the permission of the copyright owner.

I have come across a publication that does not appear to have the © symbol displayed on it.  Does this mean it is not protected by copyright?

No. Copyright arises automatically on the creation of a material and it is not necessary to register the copyright or use/display the © symbol in association with a material for the material to have copyright attached to it.

Isn’t everything on the Internet in the “public domain” and therefore, free for the public to use?

No.  Materials posted on the Internet are considered to be “publicly available” and have the same copyright protection as materials made available in another format or medium.  For a material to be in the “public domain”, either the material was not eligible for copyright protection in the first place, the copyright in the material has  expired (i.e., the copyright term has ended) or the copyright has been legally forfeited by the copyright owner in a manner that enables the public to freely make use of the material.  Occasionally a copyright owner may specifically indicate that the material posted on the Internet can be used for certain purposes, but unless the copyright owner has specified a permitted use, permission is required.

What authority does the Intellectual Property Program operate under?

The Intellectual Property Program operates under the following authorities:

What policies govern management of Province-owned Copyright and Intellectual Property Disposal?

The BC government’s Core Policy Manual contains the following section which governs the management of Province-owned copyright and intellectual property disposal:

Why might I be required to license the material or pay a fee?

When materials are developed for BC government use, the focus is on utility and value for government purposes, not its use by other interested parties.  Depending upon how the material may be used by a third party, legal constraints around use of the material may be required to address issues while still potentially providing opportunity for expanded use of the material.  The permission and licensing fees charged are intended to recover a fair share of the government’s cost related to providing these goods and services to help to make the provincial government’s revenue system fairer by shifting some of the burden away from general taxation to those individuals or companies who derive a clear benefit from their use of government-owned material.