Note: This document hasn't been actively maintained, and should be used as a historical reference.


Digital Copyright Terminology

Entries are in alphabetical order. Most entries are only one line or one paragraph long. Others run to several paragraphs. I have tried to put the essential information in the first paragraph so you can skip the other paragraphs if that seems appropriate.

Note that there is some legal stuff in there. I've done my best to be as accurate as possible, but I'm not a lawyer and I strongly advise you to get your own legal advice rather than relying on anything here as being legally accurate.

Jump to a letter in the glossary

numeric A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Other glossaries

Intellectual Property glossaries:

More general glossary or dictionary information:




In general, anyone who produces a work. Tends to imply someone who paints, though, so creator is often clearer.
Preferred term for the people who read/listen/watch works protected by copyright.

Audience is preferred to Consumer because the work itself is not destroyed (consumed) by being watched. In fact, a work with no audience is arguably equivalent to no work at all.

Audio Recording Medium
The Copyright Act defines an Audio Recording Medium as a recording medium, regardless of its material form, onto which a sound recording may be reproduced and that is of a kind ordinarily used by individual consumers for that purpose, excluding any prescribed kind of recording medium. See section 79 of the Act.
In general, anyone who produces a work. Tends to imply someone who writes, though, so creator is often clearer.


Blank Audio Recording Media
The Copyright Act creates a levy on blank audio recording media, which it defines as (a) an audio recording medium onto which no sounds have ever been fixed, and (b) any other prescribed audio recording medium. See section 79 of the Act.

This has been interpreted to include both CD-R and CD-RW, and moves are afoot to add recordable DVDs, MP3 players, removable electronic memory cards and removable micro-hard drives. You can find out more here.

Blank Media
See Blank Audio Recording Media.
Broadcast Flag
Prof Felten dissects this term nicely here.


Canadian Heritage
One of the two government departments responsible for Copyright, the other being Industry Canada. They joint-authored the Consultation Paper and will be making recommendations to the Minister based on the outcome of the consultation process. Canadian Heritage has a mandate to protect Canadian culture, so they tend to appreciate the importance of access to works and the Public Domain.
Canadian Independent Record Production Association (CIRPA)
Another organisation representing the interests of the Canadian music industry. They have a website, but it wants to set 3 cookies, and I couldn't get it to display in Mozilla. See also the CRIA.
Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association (CMPDA)
The Canadian equivalent of the MPAA. An industry association that represents the Canadian movie distributors. They submitted a comment on the Consultation Paper, taking the standard Content Industry line, e.g. that ISP should be liable for content they communicate to the public. I'd give a link to their website, but they're so well-versed in digital technology that they don't seem to have one. Sorry.
Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA)
The Canadian equivalent of the RIAA. They have a website. See also CIRPA.
Circumvention Device
A device (possibly hardware, software or a combination) that can be used to defeat Technological Protection Measures. Legislation like the USA's DMCA makes using, building, trafficking in and even discussing such devices illegal, with very narrow exceptions for encryption research and the like. This despite the fact that using a circumvention device to make an illegal copy of a copyrighted work is already illegal.
See Canadian Independent Record Production Association.
See Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association.
Collective Societies
A collective society is an organisation that represents a group of Rights Holders. This basically makes the whole business of collecting and distributing royalties and levies that much easier. There's a good list here.
Commercial Rights
Some of the rights included in copyright are commercial rights. These are concerned with ensuring that creators are adequately financially rewarded for their creations. There is less justification for lengthy commercial rights than for lengthy moral rights because moral rights are a reflection of the creator's right to be honestly represented (similar to the laws against slander and libel), which is more fundamental than the right to be paid for what you do. For some reason, the Copyright Act has always specified the same duration for both classes of rights. For more discussion of the kinds of rights included in Copyright, see this page.
Consultation Paper
A paper put out by Canadian Heritage and Industry Canada to solicit comments on how the Copyright Act should be amended to maintain its purpose in a digitally-networked world.
The content industry's preferred term for its customers. c.f. audience.
This is another bit of newspeak used by the Content Industry. The fact is that Copyright only applies to the presentation of ideas, not the ideas themselves. The word content, though, means what a communication that is about something is about (definition from WordNet), which is the ideas, not the presentation, and is therefore uncopyrightable. The Free Software Foundation includes "content" on their list of Words To Avoid.
Content Industry
These are the corporations that make their money by selling content. Hollywood, the music recording industry, Disney, and the like. They are the primary force behind recent attempts to redefine the nature of copyright.
Content Owner
This is a recent bit of newspeak from the Rights Holders. Under the law, you don't own the content, you only own the copyright on the presentation of the content. See also Prof Felten's more elegant description.
Content Producer
Literally somebody who produces content. It implies an assembly line method of "production", though, whereas copyright applies to both this type of production and the more traditional poor starving author slaving over the hot typewriter in her back bedroom kind. A better term is creator.
see GNU General Public License.
A form of Intellectual Property. The Canadian Heritage website defines it as the legal framework within which creators of works - including films, books, sound recordings, information products and computer programs - are entitled to control and to receive payment for the use of their works

The Copyright Act is the legislation that creates and defines this right, along with the associated crimes and punishments.

Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. It applies only to expressions of ideas, not to ideas themselves. It lasts for a fixed period (usually life of the author plus 50 years), after which time the work becomes part of the Public Domain. You could think of it like a theater ticket - if you own a theater ticket, you have the right to make use of a certain seat for a certain period of time. Once that time is up, the movie ticket becomes worthless.

The intent of Copyright is to encourage the creation of works so as to enrich society as a whole. Copyright law recognises that works are not created in a vacuum but rather they draw on ideas from other works. Hence the idea of a Public Domain into which works are elevated after the copyright expires, where they are freely available to all. The mechanism chosen to achieve this goal is to restrict everyone's expression somewhat by granting a monopoly on certain uses of copyrighted works for a certain length of time.

Copyright includes both Moral Rights and Commercial Rights relating to a work. These are currently very tightly coupled together, for example they always have identical durations.

It's interesting to note that the copy part of the word copyright is generally misinterpreted. When the word copyright was first coined, the copy part was from the noun copy, meaning material such as a manuscript that is to be set in type. Only later did the word copyright expand to include duplication (the verb copy).

Copyright Act
An Act of Parliament, originally passed in 1924 and amended several times since. The Act itself is available online here.
Copyright Board
The Copyright Board is a government entity created to do some of the day-to-day administration required by the Copyright Act, including establishing royalties to be paid through collective societies and issuing license to use copyrighted works when the Rights Holder can't be found.
Corporate Author
A corporate author is where a work is created by an employee as part of their work and the corporation, rather than the employee, is considered to be the author.
Canadian Private Copying Collective, a body set up to collect and distribute the levy on blank audio recording media.
A person or organization that creates a work. Originally, only individuals could be creators, but the Copyright Act has been amended over time to recognise corporate authors where corporations employ people to create works for the corporation. The creator is granted copyrights for the work they create at the time of its creation. Some of these rights can be sold or given to others, in some cases before the work has been created (by contract). The Free Software Foundation includes "creator" on their list of Words To Avoid.
see Canadian Recording Industry Association.
Ccontent Scrambling System. The name for the encryption scheme used in DVDs. The movie industry repeatedly claims that it prevents copying when in fact it is used to control access to the content of the DVD. There is no need to defeat CSS in order to copy a DVD.


Software utility that unencrypts the content of a DVD (it undoes the CSS encryption). Originally developed to allow DVD drives in linux machines to be used to play DVDs. This is the canonical example of a "circumvention device" that the content industry would like to be illegal. Note that DeCSS is not needed to copy the DVD - a bit-for-bit copy of a DVD will work fine in a DVD player. It does facilitate accessing the content of the DVD.
Digital Restrictions Management (DRM)
An alternative definition for the abbreviation DRM, which emphasises that from a users perspective, these technologies are used to restrict the uses that can be made of works, often disallowing uses that are completely legal.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Term used in the USA's DMCA to describe the technologies used to control access to or copying of a work. The Canadian consultation paper uses the term Technological Protection Measures in a similar way. The Free Software Foundation includes "Digital Rights Management" on their list of Words To Avoid.

See also Digital Restrictions Management.

The USA's Digital Millenium Copyright Act. This is the model that the content industry would like to see adopted worldwide, and the model that they claim has to be implemented in order to ratify the WIPO Copyright Treaty. It is widely criticized as being overboard and is currently being challenged as being unconstitutional.
See Digital Rights Management.


Economic Rights
See Commercial Rights.


Fair and Reasonable Prices
According to Jack Valenti, head of the MPAA, movie producers and distributors are filled with optimism over the prospect of the Internet as another new delivery system to dispatch their movies to consumers, at a fair and reasonable price (the defining of fair and reasonable to [be] done by the consumer). (in his testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies). So remember - you get to set the price to what you consider fair and reasonable.
Fair Dealing
This term is used in the Copyright Act to identify when actions that otherwise would be copyright infringement aren't. It is defined in Section 29 of the Act and is limited to use for the purposes of research, private study and news reporting. This is the closest Canadian equivalent to the USA's concept of Fair Use. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office has a definition here. There's a bit more information in their Guide to Copyrights.
Fair Use
Fair Use is identified in Section 107 of Title 17 of the United States Code as a defence against allegations of copyright infringement. Their Copyright Office has a Fact Sheet about it. Canadian Copyright law does not have a concept of fair use. The closest equivalent under Canadian law is Fair Dealing.
File Sharing
File sharing is literally just what the name implies - sharing a file on your computer across a network (usually the internet) with a user of another computer. Conceptually, it's similar to loaning a CD to a friend. Peer-to-peer networks are an example of a use of file sharing. The MPAA's Jack Valenti, on the other hand, described file sharing as a discrete description of taking films which don't belong to you in his testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies. There are many, many file sharing programs available. For example, there's a list here. Napster, FreeNet, Gnutella and KaZaA are some well-known examples of file sharing software.


GNU General Public License (GPL, copyleft)
The license developed by the Free Software Foundation. The license allows anyone to redistribute and modify the code, but forbids anyone from distributing executables without providing access to source code. For more details see the GNU site's GPL page.
see GNU General Public License.


Home Recording
The USA's Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 introduced Section 1008 of Title 17 of the United States Code, which essentially says that it's ok to record music because you've paid a levy on the media you're recording to. The equivalent Canadian concept is Private Copying.


Industry Canada
One of the two government departments responsible for Copyright, the other being Canadian Heritage. They joint-authored the Consultation Paper and will be making recommendations to the Minister based on the outcome of the consultation process. Industry Canada has a mandate to protect Canadian industry, so they tend to emphasise the value to industry of Intellectual Property and don't tend to see the value in the Public Domain or the cost of IP to the audiences.
Infringing Copy
An infringing copy is a copy made in contravention of the Copyright Act.
Intellectual Property (IP)
Intellectual Property is a blanket term used to refer to a number of areas of the law where rights are granted for some intellectual work.

Canada recognises five kinds of intellectual property - Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Integrated Circuit Topographies. Each has its own rules and case law.

It's important to note that these "intellectual property rights" are deliberately quite different to the rights that the owner of a physical piece of property has. One reason for this is that intellectual works are non-rivalrous - fro example, telling somebody about an idea means that you both have it, whereas giving somebody a sandwich means that you no longer have it. The second reason is that rights such as copyright actually conflict with regular property rights because they impose restrictions on what the owner of a physical piece of property is allowed to do with that property (for example, it may be illegal to play a CD you bought in certain places without the approval of some rightsholders).

Clearly, all Intellectual Property law restricts expression, and so the scope of intellectual property rights have to be very carefully formulated in order to minimise the harm done to freedom of expression while maximising the alleged benefits to society in terms of motivation to innovate or to create cultural works. Hence the government tries to be very careful to maintain balance.

Some people believe that the phrase "Intellectual Property" itself has unpleasant connotations like the ownership of ideas (for example, the Free Software Foundation includes it on their list of Words To Avoid), but unfortunately it is the legally correct term for this area of the law. Thomas Jefferson clearly identified that he believed that "Intellectual Property" should always be subject to different rules than physical property.

See also PCT for an alternative term.

You can also read the Canadian Intellectual Property Office's take on it.

See Intellectual Property.
Intellectual Property Rights
Rights granted by Intellectual Property law, for example Copyright.




Limited Times
The US Constitution gives Congress the power to grant exclusive rights to authors and inventors for "limited times". There is plenty of debate at present about whether Congress has exceeded this authority by repeatedly extending the duration of copyright.
The content industry frequently talks of the "losses due to piracy". It turns out that these losses are purely theoretical, usually based on estimates on the number of unauthorised copies made multiplied by the profit the industry would have made if a legitimate copy had been purchased instead (or even just by the retail price of such a copy). Of course, it is very difficult to get an accurate estimate of the number of unauthorised copies of a work and it is extremely unlikely that every such copy represents a lost sale. Despite the use of the term losses, this lost potential profit does not appear on the balance sheets of the companies. In fact, these balance sheets tend to show that the companies in question make significant profits.


Moral Rights
Some of the rights included in copyright are moral rights. These are things like the right to be identified as the creator of a work. There is more justification for lengthy moral rights than for lengthy commercial rights because moral rights are a reflection of the creator's right to be honestly represented (similar to the laws against slander and libel), which is more fundamental than the right to be paid for what you do. For some reason, the Copyright Act has always specified the same duration for both classes of rights.
Motion Picture Association (MPA)
The international counterpart of the MPAA. Essentially an international lobbying group that attempts to make foreign countries as friendly as possible to the interests of Hollywood.
Motion Picture Authority of America (MPAA)
The MPAA is the voice and advocate of the American motion picture, home video and television industries. Essentially, they make campaign contributions, educate elected officials and so forth in order to get a legislative climate in which they can make the maximum profits. They're very good at it, hence laws like the DMCA. Their President and Chief Executive is Jack Valenti, who told Congress in 1982 that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone and who says that file sharing means taking films that don't belong to you. The Canadian equivalent is the CMPDA.
See Motion Picture Association or Music Publishers Association of the United States.
See Motion Picture Association of America.




P2P See peer-to-peer.
A different kind of Intellectual Property, which protects ideas, rather than expression. The aim of patent law is to encourage the sharing of ideas by granting a monopoly on the exploitation of the idea for a limited time (20 years in Canada) in return for disclosure of the idea (the alternative is to keep the idea secret (a Trade Secret) for as long as you can, in which case you have no monopoly rights but the length of time for which you can exploit it is unknown). The description of the idea must be filed with a Patent Office, who grant a patent if the idea meets the standards of being novel, useful and inventive. There is much debate at the moment about the merits of granting patents on business practices and software.
PCT (Acronym referencing Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks)
The term Intellectual Property is seen by many to be biased towards one interpretation of these laws. Because of this, a movement has started to refer to the areas of law individually, or using the acronym PCT when referencing this group of related laws. The PCT working group of the World Summit on the Information Society was one of the first large organizations to publish an IPR Disclaimer :
This working group has come to recognize that the term "intellectual property rights" carries bias and encourages simplistic overgeneralization. Therefore this working group does not carry the name IPR. In particular, this group does not endorse the legal school of thought, which advocates that productions of the mind shall be treated in a similar way as real estate property. This legal doctrine implicitly backs the concept that copyrights should last forever. This working group deals with patents, copyrights, and trademarks and related issues. We believe that those issues should be dealt with as distinct conceptual issues. The use of the acronym PCT in the URL of this working group shall not be construed as implying that those issues must be dealt with, with the same global legal and cultural framework.
Peer-to-peer (P2P)
Peer-to-peer and file sharing are used fairly interchangably. There's seems to be a steady stream of bills concerning peer-to-peer networks flowing through the US Congress.
One who performs. The Copyright Act gives performers certain rights over their performances.
A nice emotional word used by the Content Industry to refer to unauthorised reproduction of copyrighted material. Of course with this type of piracy, the only losses are theoretical (the pirate might otherwise have bought the material), rather than the very real loss of life caused by real pirates. It is also interesting to note that the words usage within the field of copyright is changing. It originally was only used for large-scale commercial operations, who actually sell the pirate copies for profit, but has recently been used to refer to individuals who, for example, copy a videotape for a friend. Prof Felten provides a good discussion of the word. The Free Software Foundation includes "Piracy" on their list of Words To Avoid.
Private Copying
Part VIII of the Copyright Act concerns Private Copying. Essentially, the recording industry managed to convince the government that they should be compensated for any unauthorized copying of their copyrighted material that goes on within the privacy of people's homes. As it clearly not practical to track down the people actually doing this, the approach taken was to define this to be Private Copying and to make it legal, while at the same time imposing a levy on the blank media that is used for such copying, thus effectively making everyone who could make such copies pay for them, regardless of whether they actually exercised this ability. The US equivalent is Home Recording.
When a government protects domestic producers by imposing duties on imports. This word has been used to describe the government's attitude towards the Content Industry, in that legislation is continually changing to protect their current revenue stream, even when the evidence indicates that it is no longer appropriate. For example, artificially making copying expensive when technology has changed such that it is virtually free, in order to protect industries that make their money by manufacturing copies of works.
Public Domain
The realm of works that are no longer protected by Copyright. These works are available for anyone to use, print, perform and copy. There is a significant industry built up around publishing public domain works. Because there are no royalties to be paid, these works can be made available to the public significantly cheaper than works that are still protected by copyright. When the copyright on a work expires, it enters the public domain. This is traditionally referred to as falling into the public domain, which implies that the public domain is somehow inferior. A nicer term is released to the public domain, which makes it clear that these works are fulfilling the aim of copyright law, by adding to the cultural body of the world, and also points out the issue of freedom. Clearly, the longer the duration of copyright, the more the public has to pay on average for access to its culture.



Region Coding
The scheme used in DVDs to partition the market, so as to enable the publishers to extract the maximum profit. Both DVDs and DVD players are assigned to a numbered region. DVD players from a given region will only play DVDs from the same region (although there is a code assigned to no region to allow DVDs to be played in any region). This means that although the content on the European DVD you buy is identical to the content on the North American version except for the region code, you cannot play it on your North American player. Sounds like tied selling, doesn't it ? I believe that this is one of those cases where a cartel can get away with what would be illegal for a single company.
Rights Holder
The term used in legal circles to refer to the person or organisation that owns the economic rights to a work. In theory, this is usually the creator, but in practice many contracts automatically assign copyrights to another party, e.g. their employer or record label.
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
The RIAA represents the record labels (its members). Its mission is to foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes our members' creative and financial vitality. Note that they do not represent the artists themselves - only when the interests of the two coincide will they speak on the behalf of the actual musicians. Essentially, they make campaign contributions, educate elected officials and so forth in order to get a legislative climate in which they can make the maximum profits. They're very good at it, hence laws like the DMCA and the Home Recording Act. The RIAA is also behind the lawsuits that killed Napster, and Their Chairman and Chief Executive Officer is Hilary Rosen.
See Recording Industry Association of America.
Rights Management Information (RMI)
This is information, usually thought of as embedded into a digital work, that details things like the name of the work, the creator, etc. It is one of the foci of the Consultation Paper. The term was coined in the WCT and WPPT treaties, where it was defined as information which identifies the work, the author of the work, the owner of any right in the work, or information about the terms and conditions of use of the work, and any numbers or codes that represent such information, when any of these items of information is attached to a copy of a work or appears in connection with the communication of a work to the public and information which identifies the work, the author of the work, the owner of any right in the work, or information about the terms and conditions of use of the work, and any numbers or codes that represent such information, when any of these items of information is attached to a copy of a work or appears in connection with the communication of a work to the public, respectively. These sound like they are entirely concerned with Moral Rights, except for the terms and conditions of use part. The principal debate in this area centres around RMI that misrepresents a work and RMI that is consulted as part of Technological Protection Measures schemes (it is difficult to conceive of a TPM scheme that doesn't require RMI of some sort).
See Rights Management Information.


See The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.
The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada
SOCAN is the Canadian copyright collective for the public performance of musical works. As a Collective Society, they collect and distribute royalties from collective agreements in Canada.
Statute Of Anne
The very first copyright legislation, introduced in England in 1710. It's available online here or here. Note that it only applies to books, that copy is only used to mean manuscript, not reproduce, and that the duration was 14 years, extendable for another 14 on expiration (in practice, this option was rarely exercised). It's also interesting to note that the rationale behind the Act was to prevent printers and booksellers from profiting at the authors' expense, whereas most copyrights are now held by the publishers.


Technological Protection Measures (TPM)
A big focus of the Consultation Paper, and the one that received the most attention. This term is used to describe technologies that are used to protect copyrighted works, for example encrypting a work so that only people who have a valid key can access it. The main issue concerns whether such technologies should receive legal protection in themselves, in addition to the copyrights protection that they are used to enforce. The Content Industry insists that such measures are useless unless breaking them is a criminal offence. Everyone else insists that breaking them may be a perfectly legitimate activity, for example, to access a work that has entered the public domain, to exercise Fair Dealing rights, for reverse engineering, to create a backup copy, etc, and that therefore the bypassing of TPM in itself should not be a criminal offence. A close equivalent, used in the USA, is Digital Rights Management.
According to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, theft means The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious taking and removing of personal property, with an intent to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.. They also include a Note: To constitute theft there must be a taking without the owner's consent, and it must be unlawful or felonious; every part of the property stolen must be removed, however slightly, from its former position; and it must be, at least momentarily, in the complete possession of the thief.. The Content Industry, however, has recently taken to describing the unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted material as theft, although it is clear that the work is not removed, that the rightful owner is not deprived of the work and that the work is never solely in the possession of the thief. The Free Software Foundation includes "Theft" on their list of Words To Avoid.
See Technological Protection Measures.




See WIPO Copyright Treaty.
See World Intellectual Property Organization.
WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT)
This 1996 treaty essentially updates the Berne Convention to account for new technological developments and the like. Of particular interest are article 4, which defines computer programs to be literary works, article 5, which extends copyright protection to databases (but not to the data they contain), articles 6 and 8, concerning the rights of making available and communicating to the public, article 11, concerning Technological Measures and article 12, concerning Rights Management Information.
WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT)
This 1996 treaty updates international copyright protection for sound recordings and performances to account for new technological developments and the like. Interestingly, article 5 explicitly distinguishes between moral rights and economic rights, and does allow for the duration of the moral rights to exceed that of the economic rights. Of particular interest are articles 8, 10, 12 and 14, concerning the rights of making available and distribution to the public, article 18, concerning Technological Measures and article 19, concerning Rights Management Information.
Work for Hire
This term is used in the Copyright Act to describe works that are produced for somebody else. In this case, the person hiring the creator is the person who gets the copyright in the finished work.
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
WIPO is an international organization dedicated to helping to ensure that the rights of creators and owners of intellectual property are protected worldwide and that inventors and authors are, thus, recognized and rewarded for their ingenuity. Canada is a member state. WIPO administers a number of international treaties, including the WCT and the WPPT.
See WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.




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