The Meaning of Publication in Canadian Copyright Law: An Archival Perspective

  • Jean Dryden


Publication has been the neglected child in Canadian intellectual property law. It has rarely been addressed in jurisprudence, and the standard treatises do not go beyond traditional views of the topic, despite the disruption posed by the digital environment. Traditionally, publication has involved making physical copies available to the public; however, digital copies can now be made available via the Internet. In Canada, it is the communication right, rather than the right to publish, that applies to Internet dissemination. Recent Canadian jurisprudence that looked at the communication right in relation to downloading video games and music raises questions about the relationship between downloading, communicating, and publishing. Furthermore, recent amendments to the Copyright Act added new rights of distribution and making available. Our understanding of the meaning of publication and the scope of the right to publish, particularly in this digital age, is no longer clear. This article explores these issues from an archival perspective as archives embrace new technologies to make their holdings available online. The article first considers the importance of publication, before examining the link between the right to publish and the definition of publication, and the ways in which publication status affects the operation of the Copyright Act. The article then analyzes the definition of publication and applies the analysis to certain questions about archival practices that may implicate publication in the context of Canadian copyright law. While the concept of publication continues to be ambiguous, uncertainty about its meaning does not change the need for archival practices to seize the opportunities offered by the digital environment.


La publication a été l’enfant oublié du droit canadien de la propriété intellectuelle. Elle a rarement été discutée dans la jurisprudence, et les traités classiques ne vont pas au-delà des avis traditionnels sur ce sujet, malgré la perturbation occasionnée par l’environnement numérique. Traditionnellement, la publication impliquait de mettre à la disposition du public des copies physiques; cependant, des copies numériques peuvent maintenant être disponibles via Internet. Au Canada, c’est le droit à la communication plutôt que le droit à la publication qui s’applique à la diffusion sur Internet. La jurisprudence canadienne récente qui s’est penchée sur le droit à la communication par rapport au téléchargement de jeux vidéo et de la musique a suscité des questions au sujet des rapports entre le téléchargement, la communication et la publication. De plus, des amendements récents à la Loi sur le droit d’auteur ont ajouté de nouveaux droits de distribution et de mise en disponibilité. Notre compréhension du sens de la publication et de la portée du droit de publier, en particulier à l’ère du numérique, n’est plus claire. Cet article explore ces questions à partir d’une perspective archivistique, alors que les archives adoptent de nouvelles technologies pour rendre leur contenu disponible en ligne. Cet article examine d’abord l’importance de la publication avant d’aborder le lien entre le droit de publier et la définition de la publication, et les façons dont le statut de publication affecte le fonctionnement de la Loi sur le droit d’auteur. Ensuite, cet article analyse la définition de la publication et applique cette analyse à certaines questions au sujet des pratiques archivistiques qui peuvent impliquer la publication dans le contexte du droit canadien sur le droit d’auteur. Alors que le concept de la publication continue à être ambigu, l’incertitude de son sens n’a pas d’incidence sur le besoin pour les pratiques archivistiques de profiter pleinement des occasions offertes par l’environnement numérique.

Author Biography

Jean Dryden

An information professional with qualifications in records management, archives, and librarianship, Jean Dryden has over 35 years of experience as a staff archivist and archival administrator at the National Archives of Canada, the Provincial Archives of Alberta, and as Chief Archivist of the United Church of Canada/Victoria University Archives. Her doctoral dissertation investigated the copyright practices of Canadian archival repositories in making their holdings available online. While a faculty member at the University of Maryland, she completed a grant-funded comparative study of the practices of American repositories. In 2015, she completed a Master of Laws degree specializing in intellectual property at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, Toronto. She has been active throughout her career on committees and boards of professional associations. As chair of the Bureau of Canadian Archivists Copyright Committee, she played a lead role in successful lobbying for amendments to the Copyright Act that benefited libraries, archives, and museums. In addition to being the author of numerous publications and presentations on copyright issues, she is the author of Demystifying Copyright: A Researcher’s Guide to Copyright in Canadian Libraries and Archives, 2nd ed. (Ottawa, 2014) and a past editor of Archivaria.

How to Cite
Dryden, Jean. 2017. “The Meaning of Publication in Canadian Copyright Law: An Archival Perspective”. Archivaria 83 (June), 1-34.