Canadian Supreme Court Deems Government Owns Copyright to Surveys

Updated: September 27, 2019

Canadian Supreme Court Deems Government Owns Copyright to Surveys

Registered survey plans — mapped designs filed with government that outline boundaries of property — are copyrighted by the Crown, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday. The government can hand out and charge for copies, and no money goes back to the surveyors who created the plans.

The questions in this case were about who owns copyright when the government publishes material created by an independent contractor. Land surveys are private creative works that are usually commissioned and paid for by members of the public, but must be filed with government in order to have any legal effect. The issue in court came down to what happens when someone wants a copy.



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Originally published on September 27, 2019

About the Author

Wendell T. Harness

I’ve been building online properties since the late 1980’s and transitioned to web design in 1999. I formed Harness Media in 2005 to help businesses grow through online marketing. I also talk to cats in a silly voice.

16 thoughts on “Canadian Supreme Court Deems Government Owns Copyright to Surveys”

  1. All surveys in Canada need to be put on the country’s payroll for producing the drawings.Perhaps clients can push that Canada pays for all the surveys that surveyors make that produce a drawing.Lots of options……………….

  2. Well that’s kinda a crappy development.  In Saskatchewan we always paid ISC for our plans, then they were bought by a private company. There goes their business model…

  3. What if we were PAID $100 (or 200) for every recorded plat? And, this money went into the STATE society of land surveyors, with a percentage going to a retirement fund, and a percentage going to fund the local society, and continuing education?


  4. Lets see… my survey, my plat that I was required to file with the province.  Now the province says it owns the copyright to my survey.If me, I would publish online surveys that I filed for free and ask other surveyors to do same.  I doubt the crown would say they nationalized my work products – or would they? 

  5. A distinction here is that the government is claiming copyright to the registered version of the survey. Presumably the surveyor retains copyright of the unregistered version and the data.  

    • @bstrand
      In Canada a surveyors boundary survey map must be prepared to specified standards. The Registrar reviews the survey for compliance and will make a judgement about the resolution. If the registrar does not agree with the surveyors resolution, or the map is not in compliance with CAD standards, he will demand changes. If the changes are not made the map will not be registered. But once the map and survey are registered, the boundary monuments are the lawful corners, not just the surveyors opinion. If some person has a problem with them, they can sue the registry, but not the landowner or the surveyor. In other words, the government registry has a lot of say about what goes on the survey, but they also end up with the responsibility. And the private surveyor is basically an agent of the registry.    

    • @paul-in-pa
      My personal experience is confined to British Columbia. B.C. is Torrens System. I  believe that the other provinces are also. Such a thing could not possibly exist solely by tradition and custom.

  6. I don’t understand why their government can’t simply be satisfied that they have a law on the books requiring surveys become part of the public record.  They demand a copyright on it too?  Unless a government entity was my client for a particular survey I’d tell them to go pound sand.

    The company paid the government $1 billion for a 50-year monopoly on registered land surveys…

    Huh?  What does this even mean?  Are recorded surveys not available to anyone if they go down to wherever they’re stored?


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