Importing and IP: Copyright Compliance |'s Blog on Customs Brokerage and News Updates

Importing and IP: Copyright Compliance

Last week, we discussed how Canadian IP holders can benefit from anti-counterfeiting measures in international trade. Protecting your own IP, however, is just one part of staying on the right side of international copyright law!

While Canada has gained a reputation as a weak link in fight for stopping the trade of counterfeit goods, increasing pressure from trading allies means that Canadian importers should start brushing up on copyright compliance and how to stay out of trouble in the future.

New USMCA measures mean the scope of goods that the CSBA can stop at the border has increased, as well — all the more reason to keep an eye on your compliance!

How do I stay compliant?

Keeping your copyright compliance on the up-and-up isn’t a simple, quick task.

Canada is a member of 2 major international copyright agreements: the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention. Getting to know both agreements is the first step any importer should take, but the fact is that they’re long agreements that aren’t always clear to the layperson — that is, anyone not a dedicated expert in international trade and copyright law.

An Example: Compliance and Books

If you want to import books into Canada for sale, you have a number of copyright regulations to keep in mind. You’re free to import a foreign-published book to sell at a Canadian retailer, right? Yes — if no one else has secured exclusive rights to distribute that edition of the book. If they have, attempting to import that book is illegal. Well, then, what if you want to be the exclusive distributor of a foreign-published book? Look out — you’ll have a few steps you have to take in order to enforce your exclusive right to import that copyrighted material:

  • Retailers must be given advance notice that you are the exclusive distributor;
  • Shipments must be made to said retailers within a certain number of days after an order is place; and
  • A suggested retail price (SRP) must be set, and must be set according to guidelines based on the original price of the book.

However, even if you keep rules about exclusive distribution in mind, you might bump up against other international copyright regulations. Importing a book by a Canadian author that was printed in Great Britain — or any member of the Berne Convention — means the rules change to allow for importation without a copyright violation.

Staying compliant to copyright law when importing books means keeping in mind multiple different agreements and regulations — something that rings true for any import into Canada, even if the specifics of the regulations vary.

What happens if I violate copyright?

Whether it’s because a regulation was missed, a supplier was suspect, or because you knowingly tried to import counterfeit goods — not a good idea! — you may someday end up with copyright charges against you and your business. Don’t panic, however — while Canadian law does allow for jail time for particularly egregious violations, Canadian courts rarely, if ever, recommend it.  

It’s highly unlikely any copyright violation a Canadian importer is accused of will lead to a criminal prosecution, but the law does allow for penalties up to $1 million dollars in fines and five years in jail. In order to be convicted in a criminal prosecution, your accuser must provide proof that you had subjective knowledge of the act in question — and that’s good news for anyone who ends up on the wrong side of copyright law because of a mistake.

Civil remedies, on the other hand, are more common. If found guilty of a copyright violation, you’ll likely be subjected to the penalties laid out in the Trademarks Act and the Copyright Act, the general statutory frameworks for the actions. This means that if you imported sunglasses that were then found to be counterfeit, your goods could be destroyed, you could be fined, or you could be required to pay a portion of the copyright holder’s legal costs. In one case, an importer was required to pay bonded storage and cartage costs and destroy the goods in front of a CBSA witness.

How can I stay compliant?

The number one way to ensure you never run into copyright violations? Work with an expert!

Customs brokers keep on top of changes in international, import, and copyright law so you know you’ll always be compliant with the newest regulations. If you’re ready to start working with a customs broker, contact Clearit today!