Does Copyright Apply to Christmas Songs?

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We’ll be celebrating the holidays differently this year. Fortunately, there’s always Christmas songs to boost the spirits! But are you free to use them however you wish?

What is copyright?

In Canada, songs are generally protected by what is called “copyright.” This protection grants the author the exclusive right to copy and reproduce the music in any possible form and to perform it publicly.

Copyright also gives the author the right to say how the song will be used. The person holding the copyright can refuse to allow the music to be used in a manner that harms their honour or reputation, even if they have been offered payment to use the song.

People who perform music and makers of sound recordings also benefit from these protections.  

Does copyright last forever?  

A song is protected by copyright during the lifetime of the author. These protections are then transferred to the author’s heirs and continue for up to 50 years after the author’s death.

A performer and a maker of sound recordings are generally protected by copyright for 70 years after the recording was made.

Once these periods have expired, anyone can use the songs as they wish. For example, the song “Le jour de l’An” can be used freely without having to pay anything to the heirs of La Bolduc. However, Guylaine Tanguay and her team have the right to be paid when you use the recording they made of this song. They may receive this payment when you buy the album on which this song was recorded or when you listen to it through an online music service.

Legal use of music protected by copyright

Artists are usually members of organizations that represent them for copyright purposes. People who want to use music that has been registered with such organizations can buy licenses so that the artist is paid for each use.

If an artist is not a member of such an organization, you must contact them directly to obtain their permission to use their music.

However, it is unnecessary to contact the artist or their representative to use music for certain purposes, including educational, parody, or satire. You can also sing songs freely in private or for non-commercial purposes. So, don’t worry about breaking into song while baking your favourite holiday treats!