A legal framework surrounds the creation of artistic works. The Copyright Act protects the actual works of art while laws on the status of the artist aim at protecting the creators themselves. These laws work in complementarity.

Indeed, while the Copyright Act recognizes a right, the Exhibition right for example, and the possibility of seeking monetary compensation for the public presentation of art works, laws on the status of the artist enable creators to regroup into associations which establish and recommend minimum amounts for each type of use. In some cases, such as the National Gallery of Canada, RAAV and CARFAC have established, through the negotiation of a scale agreement, minimum royalties the museum has to respect.

The Copyright Act allows also the creation of copyright management societies such as Copyright Visual Arts to help artists protect their rights and improve their economic situation by collecting better royalties in their name.

The Copyright Act of Canada

The Copyright Act (RSC 1985, c. C-42) is a federal law that defines the protection of the intellectual property rights authors own for their artistic, musical or literary works. It also protects the rights of stage performers and actors in film and television. This protection includes any artistic works such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, architectural works, engravings and photographs, crafts.

To own the copyright in a work means that you have the exclusive right to produce or reproduce that work, or any substantial part of the work, in any material form; to perform or to represent all or a significant part of it in public. If the work is not published, you have the exclusive right to publish all or a significant part of it. The copyright also includes the exclusive right to reproduce, adapt and publicly present the work as a cinematographic work and to communicate it to the public by telecommunication (Internet, television, social media,etc.).

Copyright allows the author or his/her designate to request monetary compensation for uses made of his/her works. For example, a painting may be displayed in a museum or an exhibition center, it may be reproduced in a catalog, a magazine or a brochure, it may be reproduced in digital format and uploaded in a website, copied on a CD-ROM, serve as desktop background for your computer, cell phone, etc. All these uses require the permission of the original author, and such permission may require payment of a fee.

The Federal Act on the Status of the Artist

Adopted in 1992, the Canadian Status of the Artist Act (RSC 1992, c. 33) deals with the relationships between professional artists of all disciplines and organizations or agencies of the Canadian federal government. Among these are included the National Gallery of Canada (NGC), the National Arts Centre (NAC), the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the National Film Board (NFB).

The Act created the Canadian Professional Relations Tribunal for Artists and Producers. This tribunal was abolished in 2013 and replaced by the Canada Industrial Relations Commission that continues the mission entrusted to the Tribunal.

The law allows certified artists' associations (such as RAAV and CARFAC) to negotiate scale agreements with federal organizations and agencies involved in the particular artistic disciplines.

As defined in the law, a scale agreement is a "written agreement between a producer and an artists' association and containing provisions on the minimum requirements for the artists' services and related matters. A scale agreement serves to frame the professional relationships that develop between an individual artist and a producer.

Québec: The Act respecting the professional status of artists in the visual arts, arts and crafts and literature, and their contracts with promoters (S-32.01 Act)

The Québec S-32.01 Act was adopted in 1988. It sets the conditions for the recognition of the professional status of artists in the visual arts, crafts and literature, as well as for the recognition of their respective associations. It deals with the contractual relationships between artists and promoters or producers. The main associations of artists covered by this act are AQAD (playrights), CMAQ (craft artists), RAAV (visual and media artists) and UNEQ (writers).

A promoter is a "person, organization or company that, as a principal or secondary activity, operates for profit or not a distribution business that contracts with artists." Private galleries, art museums, cultural centers, exhibition centers and artist-run centers are considered promoters within the meaning of the law. The scope of the law includes "sale, loan, lease, exchange, deposit, exhibition, publishing, public performance, publication or any other use of the work of an artist."

Unlike the S-32.1 Act, the S-32.01 Act contains no collective bargaining mechanism allowing associations representing artists to negotiate with promoters, or promoters’ associations, in order to enforce minimum rates for professional fees and the various copyright royalties.

Québec: The Act respecting the professional status and conditions of engagement of performing, recording and film artists (S-32.1 Act)

As its name suggests, the Québec act S-32.1 concerns theater, musical, film and television performers. Stage, film and television technicians are also covered by this legislation.

The main associations of artists recognized under this legislation are the UDA, SARTEC, ARRQ, APASQ and the Musicians' Guild of Quebec. Unlike the S-32.01 Act, the S-32.1 Act contains a collective bargaining mechanism allowing these organizations to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the artists they represent.