A recent article on Photo Tuts+, Copyright and Creative Commons Explained, led me to research into the Canadian Copyright Act ("Act"), R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42, which is current to May 29, 2011 at the time I was writing this post.
Disclaimer: if you have a specific copyright concern, please consult your lawyer. Information on this blog should not be taken as legal advice.
In my research, I was led to some sites, that can be misleading, but others are helpful.
From my understanding of the Act, the moment you snap, you are deemed the author of the photograph and automatically own the copyright of your photography work. No paperwork filing is required, but you do have the option to apply for the registration of the copyright at the Copyright Office if you want to further protect your photos.
Let's say the photographer (author of the copyright) was commissioned and paid for by a third party for an event, the third party will be the owner and deemed author of the copyright to the photographs (Subsections 13(1),(2) and 10(2) of the Act). Yes, that's right. This rule applies as long as there is no agreement between the parties that states otherwise (Section 13 of the Act).
For example, a wedding photographer wants to showcase on his website some of the pictures he took, he would need the permission from the bride and groom, author of the wedding photos, who commissioned him. In this case, it would be a safe bet to assign a clause in the agreement that allows some of the wedding pictures to be used, with the bride and groom's consent, to promote the photographer's business (on his blog, website, studio samples) without identifying them by their full names.
Let's say the photographer hires and takes pictures of a model on the street for his personal project and he wasn't paid for by a third party, he would own the copyright to the photos he took. If he decides to sell the images with the model in them, to a stock photo company for example, he will then need the model to sign a model release form. I guess the exception would be the editorial images that you see in photojournalism.
If the model didn't get compensated for the shooting project, a consideration in prints is a good way to saying thank you for your model.
Term of copyright
If the owner of the copyright is a person, the term of the copyright subsists for a period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year the author died, assuming that there is no negative. In other terms, the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years (Section 6 of the Act).
If the owner of the copyright is a corporation, the term of the copyright subsists in the remainder of the year of the making of the initial photograph plus a period of 50 years (Section 10 of Copyright Act). So yeah, the copyright term of a photography work is shorter for a company. Let's say a photographer incorporates his business, and owns the majority of the voting shares in the company, the rule of his life plus 50 years (same as above paragraph for natural person) will apply to the copyright of his photos.
Hopefully, the above is not too confusing.
Apart from the legislation, a photography without the copyright symbol (c) does not give the right for the non-authors to exploit it. Unless the photo is under the Creative Commons license, a permission from the owner is the best policy.