Copyright/authors’ rights: Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is copyright?

Copyright is a property right, which exists to protect the expression of ideas and the use of works by authors and publishers of various types of works, including literary (e.g. books, newspapers, magazines and journals), artistic works (including photographs, paintings, sculptures, diagrams), musical works, sound recordings, films and broadcasts.

Copyright is one of several intellectual property (IP) rights that exist, including, amongst others, trademarks, patents and designs. Intellectual property is a fundamental right, as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (Article 17(2)).

Like with other types of property, copyright can be sold, purchased, licensed, transferred, or violated. However, owning a copyright protected work, such as a book for example, has to be distinguished from ownership of the copyright: buying the book does not mean that you then own the copyright in the book.

2. What are authors’ rights?

Authors’ rights come from the French tradition of “droits d’auteur” and are protected by International and EU legislation. The term is generally used in civil law countries.

Authors’ rights belong to the author of a literary or artistic work and are composed of economic and moral rights.

Economic rights are property rights that enable the author to protect his/her work, authorise and prevent uses of the work. They can be transferred or licensed. Each use of an author’s economic rights requires payment unless the author decides otherwise.

Beside their economic aspect authors’ rights also grant authors moral rights, including the right to be named as the author and the right to protect their work from being used in a detrimental way or context. These rights are personal rights and cannot be traded. They allow individuals to exercise control over their work. It enables authors to maintain ethical standards which define and guarantee quality and authenticity of the works produced.


3. What is the purpose of copyright/authors’rights?

The purpose of copyright and authors’ rights is to provide protection for authors and publishers in order that they can decide on how their creative works are to be used. This right of determination allows inter alia to be rewarded for their skill and investment in producing their works. The possibility to reap such rewards in turn encourages further creativity and innovation. This ultimately benefits not only authors and publishers but society in general.


4. Why is copyright/authors’ rights important?

As explained in the EU's "Information Society Directive" (Directive 2001/29/EC) copyright/authors’ rights "are crucial to intellectual creation. Their protection helps to ensure the maintenance and development of creativity in the interests of authors, performers, producers, consumers, culture, industry and the public at large."(Recital 9).

Without the necessary incentives and confidence to invest in creative works, society would be deprived of the rich array of literary, artistic, musical and audiovisual works that we have become accustomed to today.

The legal framework protecting copyright/authors’ rights, together with other IP rights, is more important than ever in the digital age, not only to ensure that we continue to be able to enjoy a culturally rich society [with a diverse and pluralistic press sector, thriving book sector.....] but also in terms of its importance to the economy and jobs.

According to a study by the Office for Harmonisation of the Internal Market (OHIM)'s European Observatory, 50 per cent of all EU industries are IP intensive with one in three jobs relying on IPR intensive industries (see


5. What rights does copyright and authors’ rights provide?

Copyright and authors’ rights provide authors and publishers of various types of works (such as literary, artistic, musical and audiovisual) with economic rights which allow them to control use of their works in various ways. In short, copyright gives the right holder the right to decide how, by whom and under what conditions their material is used. It is up to the right holder to decide whether and how to exploit their work and how to enforce their rights.

The EU's "Information Society Directive" (Directive 2001/29/EC), Article 5, sets out that authors, amongst other right holders, have the exclusive right to:

- authorise or prohibit direct or indirect, temporary or permanent reproduction by any means and in any form, in whole or in part, of their works.

- authorise or prohibit any communication to the public of their works, by wire or wireless means, including the making available to the public of their works in such a way that members of the public may access them from a place and at a time individually chosen by them.

The Directive also gives authors the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit any form of distribution to the public by sale or otherwise of their original works or copies thereof.

On top of these rights, authors’ rights grant the author moral rights which are personal rights and cannot be transferred. They include the right to be named as the author and the right to protect their works from being used in a detrimental way or context.


6. What are the exceptions and limitations to these exclusive rights?

The Information Society Directive provides that the exclusive right of reproduction should be subject to various exceptions. One of them allows certain acts of temporary reproduction, which are transient or incidental reproductions, forming an integral and essential part of a technological process and carried out for the sole purpose of enabling either efficient transmission in a network between third parties by an intermediary, or a lawful use of a work to be made. This allows, for example, acts which enable browsing and caching to take place.

The Information Society Directive also gives Member States the option of providing for certain exceptions or limitations to the exclusive rights of reproduction and communication and making available to the public for cases such as educational and scientific purposes, for the benefit of public institutions such as libraries and archives, for purposes of news reporting, for quotations, for use by people with disabilities, for public security uses and for uses in administrative and judicial proceedings.

The exceptions and limitations provided for in the Directive can only be applied in certain special cases which do not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work or other subject-matter and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the right holder. This is consistent with international law.

Further information

For further details of copyright related legislation at international, European and national level - including details of which exceptions apply in which Member State - see section on "legislation".

For details of how certain copyright rules have been interpreted by the European Court of Justice, see section on "Case law".


7. How do you get copyright/authors’ rights protection?

Copyright/authors’ rights protection arises automatically when an original idea is recorded either in writing or in another perceptible form. There is no registration process necessity in the EU. It is however worth noting that in some countries outside of the EU the copyright symbol (c) together with the author's name and date of first publication are a requirement for protection.


8. What does the formula “all rights reserved” mean?

Although this formula is not a formal condition for copyright/authors’ rights protection, it allows its user, the author or the rightholder, to ascertain that he/she holds all the rights provided by copyright/authors’ rights law, such as reproduction, making available, communication to the public, moral rights and that this person/entity should be asked before using the work.


9. How long does copyright/authors’ rights protection last?

It depends on both the type of work in question and the origin of the original work. As regards the EU rules, for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, the copyright expires 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies. However, there are countries outside the EU which have shorter terms of protection.

For further details on the term of protection for different types of works and both within the EU and under international rules, see section on "legislation".


10. How can I benefit from my own copyright/authors’ rights?

A right holder can benefit from copyright/authors’rights in various ways. As set out above copyright and part of authors’ rights (ie economic rights) are a property right and a right holder can thus sell or agree a transfer of copyright/authors’ rights to someone else. The way how copyright/authors’ rights protected works are used and exploited is therefore first and foremost determined by contractual agreements between the two or more parties concerned and sometimes by legislation.

A licence (a contractual agreement between the right holder and the user of the copyright material) can be given to one or more other people to use the work. It is prudent to make clear in what ways, if at all, you permit others to use your content. A licence may or may not involve payment for the use in question: a fee would be likely for uses relating to commercial purposes,while there is often no fee requested in the case of use of material for non-commercial purposes. The decision is up to the copyright/authors’ rights holder.

For some examples of different types of licences which allow you as the right holder to communicate which rights you reserve and those which you waive for the benefit of others see


11. What is collective licensing?

Collective licensing is an alternative to direct licensing by right holders, typically used when it is difficult or inconvenient for the right holder to licence directly. 


12. What is Collective Management

Collective management organisations (CMOs), provide blanket licences for uses relating to their whole repertoire, exist in the various EU Member States and internationally to license certain uses of right holders' (including authors, publishers etc.) works on their behalf. This is also useful for users, who can avoid negotiating numerous individual licences.

The European Union has recently harmonised the system of collective licensing with the Directive on collective management of copyright and related rights and multi-territorial licensing, which will have to be transposed into national law by 10 April 2016.

For further details of CMOs, see section "Collective management"


13. What are Reprographic Rights Organisations (RROs)?

The Reproduction Rights Organisations (RROs) which are the collective management organisations in the text and image based works sector derive their authority from mandates from authors and publishers and/or national legislation in order to license uses and so give access to the world’s scientific and cultural printed works.

RROs represent both authors and publishers and enable them to provide the innovative solutions necessary to permit seamless legal access. Through RROs’ agreements with rightholders, they can create solutions based on market demand that can meet dynamic user needs in constantly changing environments. RROs are linked by bi- or multilateral agreements. RROs operate in almost every territory and have the ability to adapt to local conditions, education systems, economic circumstances and cultures.

IFRRO RRO Members are listed here


14. What do I do if I want to get a licence for use of particular copyright/authors’ rights protected material?

Copyright/authors’ rights notices / terms and conditions which can be typically found on the copyright/authors’ rights material / website etc. in question should be checked at the outset. Look in particular for information such as “all rights reserved”, watermarking with copyright/authors’ rights information, creative commons licences… Permission for use of the material may already have been provided. Or the copyright/authors’ rights might have even expired for older material.

For digital copyright/authors’ rights material, it is easier than ever to get a licence to use the protected content and there are increasingly "one click" licensing solutions. For example, press publishers and journalists make it very easy for users to share their content by using "share" or "like" buttons.

Where there is not an automated solution, you can use other channels to contact the right holder to request permission for the use(s) you want to make of the material. If details of the right holder is not in the copyright notice, contact the publisher, or author if not known, to check who the right holder is. There are also interest groups representing authors, publishers, artists, writers etc. which can be contacted for information.

It should also be noted here that the EU is also co funding with media industry partners the Rights Data Integration Project (, a two-year project launched in December 2013 to further enable and encourage greater legitimate use of all types of digital content. This will help content owners and users to manage and trade rights for all types of usage of all types of content and copyrighted works in all types of media. Content owners will be able to assert ownership of content and communicate copyright terms and conditions in the digital environment in a way that both machines and people can understand.

For further details, see section "best practices".


15. How are copyright/authors’ rights enforced?

There are various remedies available under the civil law of EU Member States such as damages, injunctions, and orders to deliver up infringing goods. Intentional commercial scale infringements can also be prosecuted as a criminal offence. "Cease and desist" letters can also help in addressing infringers without having to launch litigation which is usually a costly and lengthy process. The 28 Member States have set up various different systems to enforce copyright infringements.

Rules on liability and enforcement are set out in EU Legislation, including the E-commerce Directive and the Intellectual Property RightsEnforcement Directive, which have been implemented into national law in the EU's 28 member states.

For further details see section "legislation".

It should be noted that the European Commission has launched an Action Plan seeking to re-orientate its Intellectual property (IP) enforcement policy towards better compliance of IP rights by all economic actors. The actions set out in the Action Plan pave the way towards a “follow the money approach”, which seeks to "deprive commercial scale infringers of the revenue flows that draw them into such activities", rather than focusing on citizens who might unknowingly infringe rights.


16. What are Copyright/authors’ rights Levies

Copyright/authors’rights levies are remuneration paid to authors, performers, publishers, producers, or other copyright holders for certain uses authorised by legislation, for instance the private copy levy, which compensates for strictly private uses of a work protected by copyright/authors’ rights.


17. What are Text and Image (TI) Copyright Levies?

TI levies represent copyright/authors’ rights fees paid for the use of text and image works under exceptions or limitations to the exclusive right of reproduction in copyright/authors’ rights law. These exceptions or limitations normally include private use by natural persons, such as the private copying levy, but often also extend, unlike the private copying levy, to own or internal use by legal persons such as companies or educational institutions. The levies consist primarily of a fee, known as the equipment levy, paid by the manufacturers or importers of devices or media which can be used to make such copies. This fee is normally passed down the chain of supply so that it is ultimately borne by the end user. In many countries, the equipment levy is supplemented by an ‘operator levy’, which is a periodical fee paid by those who operate or provide copying devices on a large scale, such as copy shops and public libraries.

The equipment levy applies primarily to devices or media which can be used to copy text and image works only, either alone or in conjunction with other devices or media such as copiers, multifunction machines, scanners and printers. The levy on such devices or media is normally collected by reproduction rights organisations (RROs), the collective management organisations (CMOs) in the text and image sector, and distributed to authors and publishers either directly or through other representative organisations. However, in some countries RROs also receive a share for the copying of text and image works as part of the private copying levy, which is normally collected by another CMO.