Copyright protects works such as:
- literary works- novels, song lyrics, newspaper articles;
- computer programs, some types of databases;
- dramatic works- dance or mime;
- musical works;
- artistic works- paintings, photographs, sculptures, architectural designs, technical drawings, diagrams, maps, logos;
- layouts or typographical arrangements;
- recordings of a work - recorded music performances;
- broadcasts of a work.
According to a well-established principle, copyright protection extends only to physical expressions, not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such.
Copyright protection is automatic in the EU, as well as in every country that is a signatory to the Berne Convention. Copyright, therefore, arises from the moment of the work’s creation and no registration or other formality is required.
Nevertheless, copyright owners may take some measures with the purpose of informing others of the existence of copyright, reducing the likelihood of a potential infringement. A well-known measure commonly used is to mark copyrighted works with a copyright notice. Usually it includes the copyright symbol (©), followed by the owner’s name and year of the work’s protection.
Even though copyright owners do not have to register copyright, and registration is not a requirement for protection, some national laws allow it. Using these non-mandatory registration systems may prove to be useful in some situations, particularly where proof of possession and creation on a certain date is necessary to legal proceedings. It may also prevent misappropriations of information in negotiations with potential partners, since it shows that said material had already been created.
To qualify for copyright protection, a work must:
- be original, in the sense that it is the author's own intellectual creation;
- exist in some physical form (this requirement is only applicable in some Member States as it is subject to national laws).
Copyright is an intellectual property right, that entitles the owners of literary and artistic works to a set of exclusive rights over their works. These rights, generally, include:
- adapting and altering;
- communicating and performing to the public;
- renting and lending copies.
Copyright grants two kinds of prerogatives:
- economic rights;
- moral rights;
So-called "economic rights" enable right holders to control (license) the use of their works, and be remunerated for their use. These rights normally take the form of exclusive rights and include the right to reproduce and publish the work publicly.
The author of a copyrighted work also has the right to claim authorship, as well as the right to object to a distortion and mutilation of the work that may be detrimental to his honour or reputation. These rights are generally known as moral rights. Moral rights may include the right to decide on when or whether to make the work public, the right to claim authorship of the work and the right to object to any derogatory action in relation to the work. Moral rights are not harmonised at EU level.
Related rights are the rights that have a specific subject matter and protect the interests of certain group of right holders, such as:
- producers (of phonograms, films);
- broadcasting organisations;
- publishers in their editions.
These are rights granted to performers, producers and broadcasters to ensure that those who have created or invested in the creation of music, or other content such as literature or films, can determine how such a creation can be used and receive remuneration for it.
After the period of copyright protection has expired, a work becomes available for use without permission from the copyright owner; it is said to be "in the public domain." Most works enter the public domain because their copyrights have expired.
Generally in the EU, copyright is owned by the natural person who creates the work. In most EU countries, the author or co-authors of a work are the first owners or co-owners of the copyright.
However, the IP systems in the EU currently vary between Member States that maintain a system of institutional ownership, and those which maintain a system of professor’s privilege (inventor ownership).
In many countries, when a work is made by an employee in the course of his/her employment, the owner of the work will be stipulated in the employee's contract, usually that the employer owns the any work created in the due course of employment.(e.g. the university would be regarded as the owner of a copyright to a work created by its researcher in the course of their employment, since the latter is paid to perform such a task).
Some countries of the EU have a specific type of "professor’s privilege" regime according to which the researchers, PhD students, etc. are entitled by law to the ownership of the work they created in the course of their employment (e.g. in Italy or Sweden). Results of publicly-funded research created or developed by researchers are thus owned by the latter and not by the academic institution where the research is carried out.
The requirements to be satisfied for a work to be considered as jointly created (joint authorship) are generally the following:
- the work has to be produced through the process of collaboration;
- each of the authors must contribute to the making of the work;
- the respective contribution of each author is not distinct from that of the other(s).
Copyright is essentially a private right. The copyright owner must decide how best to exploit the copyright work – to sell it, license it (exclusively or non-exclusively); an assignment transfers the full (all economic rights) or partial (some economic rights) ownership.
These options often involve contractual agreements, which may be just as important as the rights provided by copyright law.
Registered copyright does not refer to a different type of intellectual property right, but to copyright that has been registered under the voluntary system of registration. Copyright is indeed an automatic right that does not depend on registration. Nevertheless, in some countries (e.g. Belgium), national laws allow registration of artistic/literary works. This voluntary system of registration is generally aimed at identifying the work and serving as evidence in court in litigation disputes (e.g. in order to prove more easily the date of creation of the work); it does not prove authorship.
There are a number of exceptions in copyright law, which allow limited uses of copyright works without the permission of the copyright owner. Normally permission is not needed if using less than a substantial part of a copyright protected work.
The following list of exceptions is not exhaustive and particular care should be taken if intending to rely on an exception:
- non-commercial research and private study;
- criticism, review and reporting current events;
- teaching in educational establishments;
- helping visually impaired people;
- time shifting;
- material used in legal proceedings.
Certain exceptions require giving sufficient acknowledgment when making use of a copyright protected work.
Copyright is infringed when a person deals with a ‘substantial part’ of a copyright-protected work without the copyright owner’s authorisation where such dealing is not covered by an exception. It is important to take into consideration that dealing with a ‘substantial part’ of a copyright-protected work does not necessarily refer to using a large amount of the work. A person who wants to exploit another person's works must obtain authorisation from the owner of the copyright-protected work; otherwise the person's act will constitute infringement of the copyright on the works.
The Berne Convention establishes that literary works are protected under copyright, without any formal registration of rights, in the countries that agree to this Convention. This means that as soon as a literary work is created, it is considered to be protected by copyright. All European Union Member States are parties to the Berne Convention.
To obtain copyright protection on a book, authors in the EU do not need to register their publication, as protection arises automatically; but they are required to satisfy the copyright requirements that are imposed in their country. For example, one such requirement is the original character of the work.
Copyright combines rights of the author and rights to the exploitation of works. Concerning the publication of a book, authors are usually required to assign the copyright or grant a licence to publishers in order to allow them to make copies and to distribute the work. These arrangements commonly include an agreement on the payment of royalties to the author.
At the European level, Directive 2009/24 seeks to harmonise Member States’ legislation in the field of legal protection of computer programs by defining a minimum level of protection. Member States protect computer software as such by copyright, by analogy to the protection given to literary works within the meaning of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.
Copyright will protect only the computer program in the form written by a programmer i.e. its source code. Neither the functionality of a computer program, nor the programming language or the format of data files used in a computer program in order to exploit certain of its functions constitute a form of expression of that program, and thus, those are not protected by copyright.
Article 52 of the European Patent Convention excludes software from patentability to the extent that a patent application relates to a computer program as such. A distinction is, however, made between “software patents” which are excluded according to Article 52 EPC and so called computer-implemented inventions which are accepted at the European Patent Office. In this respect, “computer-implemented inventions” can be defined as inventions whose implementation involves the use of a computer, a computer network or other programmable apparatus, having one or more features realised by means of a computer program. It seems therefore that patentability must not be denied merely because a computer program is involved. You could seek patent protection if the subject matter of your invention as a whole, i.e. a machine with related software, has a technical character - this technical character must be present in all variants covered by the patent claim.
Moral rights are perpetual. As to the economic rights, and according to the Berne Convention, which has been ratified by 167 countries including all EU Member States, the period of protection granted to the copyright owner shall be the life of the author and a certain number of years (typically 50 years) after his/her death.
However, in the case of cinematographic works, the countries of the Berne Convention may provide that the period of protection shall 50 years after the work has been made available to the public with the consent of the author, or, if it is not the case, within 50 years from the creation of such a work.
It is to be noticed that the protection period set by the Berne Convention is a minimum standard. Hence, it is up to the Member States, which are parties of the Convention, to set higher time limits for the protection of the copyright.