Copyright is easier than pie.

by Todd Bailey
3 minute read - May 10, 2021
IP without Jargon

Generating value in today’s digital world is easier than ever. So is copying and stealing.

But you can reduce the risks by protecting your IP (intellectual property). Although information about IP is everywhere, Scale AI wants to help you transform IP information into IP action. In this blog, IP without Jargon, we’re unpacking IP concepts, debunking IP myths and, along the way, throwing in some IP terminology [in square brackets] to help you learn the lingo. Let’s go.


Copyright is easier than pie.

Back in the early days of the Android operating system, Google wanted compatibility with Java to encourage developers to create apps.  Google wanted Android to keep pace with Apple’s exploding iOS platform.  

But to do this, Android needed Java APIs, small blocks of software code to facilitate interactions between the software platforms. But instead of licensing the official Java APIs, Google decided to develop its own APIs after carefully studying the Java APIs. 

When Java’s owner heard this news, they sued, claiming Google had infringed copyright by copying their APIs without permission.   

Although APIs may seem like simple and uninteresting bits of code, the court agreed that the Java APIs were protected by copyright and that Google’s copying was illegal. 

The case was recently in the news again as the court deals with some legal technicalities, but the case nevertheless demonstrates that even simple software code is protected by copyright. 

Copyright can be a powerful tool against copying and other misuses of software code.

We’ve seen previously that non-public information and data can be protected as secrets. But what about IP that is released to the public?

We’ve also seen that patents can protect the functionality of new or improved methods or product features for IP that released to the public, but what about IP that can’t be patented? For this, we need copyright.

What can be protected by copyright?

  • written material [literary works], such as website text or software code,
  • images or graphic designs [artistic works], such as stock photographs,
  • movies, videos and music [audiovisual works], such as streaming web video,
  • and more.

How to obtain copyright.

IP Myth: To copyright something, you must file an application for protection.

IP Fact: When you create new material (text, code, images, video, etc.), it is automatically protected by copyright as soon as you create it.

That’s right!  Copyright is the easiest to acquire – copyright just happens. It’s created automatically when the material is created.  You don’t have to do anything extra!

Adding a copyright notice is optional, but it’s a very good idea to warn others that you understand your legal rights.  A typical notice would be: “© Copyright YOURCOMPANY, 2021. All rights reserved”.

Although no registration is required, optional registration with the copyright office offers some benefits. But unless you’re an e-book publisher or movie production company, most people don’t register their copyrights.

How copyright protection works.

Copyright can help you prevent others from unauthorized copying, distribution and other misuses of your protected material [copyrighted work]. It may also help you even if the other person only copied or misused a portion of your material.

Copyright protects how the ideas are expressed (the specific text, code or images, etc. selected by the creator), but it can’t protect the underlying ideas. For example, copyright will protect the line-by-line coding in software but won’t prevent someone from creating new code, without copying, having the same functionality. Protecting functionality requires a patent.

Copyright protection can last for 50 years or more, depending on the type of work.

What is copyright infringement?

IP Myth: If something on the Internet doesn’t have a copyright symbol or notice, anyone can use it.

IP Fact: Since virtually everything on the Internet is protected by copyright and notices are optional, it’s safer to assume you need permission or a license from the copyright owner.

All copying, translation, modification or distribution of copyrighted material requires the permission of the copyright owner.  Without permission, any of these activities will violate [infringe] the owner’s copyright.

IP Myth: It is OK to use material copied from the Internet, as long as I indicate the source.

IP Fact: Copying material from anywhere is copyright infringement – unless the owner permits copying.

The copyright owner’s permission may be given to you personally, such as in a contract you both sign [copyright license], or may be granted according to legal terms [also called a copyright license] that are posted with the copyrighted material, such as on a website. One example is a Creative Commons copyright license. Unless there is a clear permission of some sort, copying and using the material is probably copyright infringement.

What does copyright protection cost?

Copyright protection is free because the rights arise automatically. As with all IP rights however, enforcing your copyright may require a lawsuit in court.

In our next post, we’ll ask the question: is open-source software IP?


  • Copyright arises automatically.
  • Copyright can prevent copying or distribution of all, or part, of the protected material.
  • Copyright can’t prevent independent development or reverse-engineering.
  • Copyright notices warn others that you understand your rights.

*Todd is Chief IP Officer at Scale AI, and a lawyer, patent agent and IP strategist with 25 years’ experience helping startups, SMEs and multinationals protect and commercialize their IP.

Please Note: Concepts discussed here have been simplified to facilitate learning. You should consult a qualified IP lawyer or agent to discuss your unique IP needs. Protecting your IP should not be a do-it-yourself project.

Scale AI is Canada’s AI Supercluster, investing in AI supply chain projects, acceleration and talent development across Canada. Visit us at www.scaleai.ca to see how we can help your business grow.

Made possible through the
financial support of
Gouvernement du Québec
Gouvernement du Canada

Join ALL IN - the most important event dedicated to Canadian AI!