A Guide for Canadian Medical Illustrators: What Are My Intellectual Property Rights?

Most people don’t think about the artists behind the diagrams in their science textbooks. These artworks are often photocopied by high school teachers onto science tests, becoming almost unrecognizable as students are asked to label a plant cell that is monochrome and blurry. In reality, medical illustrators have, for a long time, helped us better understand biological phenomena and the human body. Their work, medical illustration, is defined as “a visual representation that is the result of art skills expressed in a tangible or virtual medium that conveys medical or biological information.”[1]

As a biology major, medical illustrations were essential to my learning throughout my degree. Medical illustrators communicate through visual means to relay complex scientific processes and medical theory to advance scientific education and research. It’s at the intersection of art, science, and medicine – areas that all deal with intellectual property issues in their own ways. Medical illustrations are particularly relevant to the practice of law as they are often used by lawyers to illustrate medical information for personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

For my final project, I wanted to create a guide for Canadian medical illustrators and the IP issues that are relevant to them: IP Guide for Medical Illustrators (IP Rights Guide Printable Zine). It is a niche field with unique considerations from an IP perspective, as the protection afforded to their work is often limited by the idea/expression dichotomy. I believe that most medical illustrations cannot, from a legal standpoint, be expressed in a different way due to them being factual representations of the human body.

It was incredibly interesting to think about the application of IP principles to a specific profession. It was also a stimulating challenge to translate what I had learned into something that was more easily digestible for a non-legal audience and practically useful for someone in the medical illustration profession.

All illustrations are my own. In addition to the materials used for the course, the following sources, including information published by the U.S.-based Association of Medical Illustrators, were used as references for the guide:

  • Association of Medical Illustrators, “Intellectual Property”, online: <https://www.ami.org/professional-resources/advocacy/intellectual-property>.
  • Association of Medical Illustrators, “Copyright”, online: <https://www.ami.org/professional-resources/business-practices/copyright>.
  • Christopher Heer et al, “Understanding Moral Rights under Copyright Law”, Heer Law (19 October 2023), online: <https://www.heerlaw.com/moral-rights-copyright-law>.
  • Mark M. Miller, “Medical Illustration State of the Art & Future Considerations” (2024) 121:1 Mo Med 21.
  • Segev LLP, “What Every Employee With a Side Hustle Should Know About Copyright Ownership”, (14 September 2021), online: <https://segev.ca/what-every-employee-with-a-side-hustle-should-know-about-copyright-ownership/>.

[1] Association of Medical Illustrators, “Careers”, online: <https://ami.org/medical-illustration/enter-the-profession/careers>.