Copyright is a legal term describing rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works.

What is covered by copyright?

The kinds of works covered by copyright include: literary works such as novels, poems, plays, reference works, newspapers and computer programs; databases; films, musical compositions, and choreography; artistic works such as paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture; architecture; and advertisements, maps and technical drawings.

What rights does copyright provide?

The original creators of works protected by copyright, and their heirs, have certain basic rights. They hold the exclusive right to use or authorize others to use the work on agreed terms. The creator of a work can prohibit or authorize:

  • its reproduction in various forms, such as printed publication or sound recording;
  • its public performance, as in a play or musical work;
  • recordings of it, for example, in the form of compact discs, cassettes or videotapes;
  • its broadcasting, by radio, cable or satellite;
  • its translation into other languages, or its adaptation, such as a novel into a screenplay.

Many creative works protected by copyright require mass distribution, communication and financial investment for their dissemination (for example, publications, sound recordings and films); hence, creators often sell the rights to their works to individuals or companies best able to market the works in return for payment. These payments are often made dependent on the actual use of the work, and are then referred to as royalties.

These economic rights have a time limit, according to the relevant WIPO treaties, of 50 years after the creator’s death. National law may establish longer time-limits. This limit enables both creators and their heirs to benefit financially for a reasonable period of time. Copyright protection also includes moral rights, which involve the right to claim authorship of a work, and the right to oppose changes to it that could harm the creator’s reputation.

The creator – or the owner of the copyright in a work – can enforce rights administratively and in the courts, by inspection of premises for evidence of production or possession of illegally made – “pirated” – goods related to protected works. The owner may obtain court orders to stop such activities, as well as seek damages for loss of financial rewards and recognition.

Are ideas, methods or concepts protected by copyright?

Copyright protection extends only to expressions, and not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such.  This principle has been confirmed by  the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as well as the WIPO Copyright Treaty.What are rights related to copyright?

A field of rights related to copyright has rapidly developed over the last 50 years. These related rights grew up around copyrighted works, and provide similar, although often more limited and of shorter duration, rights to:

  • performing artists (such as actors and musicians) in their performances;
  • producers of sound recordings (for example, cassette recordings and compact discs) in their recordings;
  • broadcasting organizations in their radio and television programs.

Why protect copyright?

Copyright and its related rights are essential to human creativity, by giving creators incentives in the form of recognition and fair economic rewards. Under this system of rights, creators are assured that their works can be disseminated without fear of unauthorized copying or piracy. This in turn helps increase access to and enhances the enjoyment of culture, knowledge, and entertainment all over the world.

Do you need to register to be protected?

Copyright itself does not depend on official procedures. A created work is considered protected by copyright as soon as it exists. According to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, literary and artistic works are protected without any formalities in the countries party to that Convention. Thus, WIPO does not offer any kind of copyright registration system.

However, many countries have a national copyright office and some national laws allow for registration of works for the purposes of, for example, identifying and distinguishing titles of works. In certain countries, registration can also serve as prima facie evidence in a court of law with reference to disputes relating to copyright.

How are copyright and related rights protected on the Internet?

Two treaties were concluded in 1996 at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva. One, the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), deals with protection for authors of literary and artistic works, such as writings and computer programs; original databases; musical works; audiovisual works; works of fine art and photographs. The other, the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), protects certain “related rights” (that is, rights related to copyright): in the WPPT, these are rights of performers and producers of phonograms.

The purpose of the two treaties is to update and supplement the major existing WIPO treaties on copyright and related rights, primarily in order to respond to developments in technology and in the marketplace. Since the Berne and Rome Conventions were adopted or lastly revised more than a quarter century ago, new types of works, new markets, and new methods of use and dissemination have evolved. Among other things, both the WCT and the WPPT address the challenges posed by today’s digital technologies, in particular the dissemination of protected material over digital networks such as the Internet. For this reason, they have sometimes been referred to as the “Internet treaties.”

Both treaties require countries to provide a framework of basic rights, allowing creators to control and/or be compensated for the various ways in which their creations are used and enjoyed by others. Most importantly, the treaties ensure that the owners of those rights will continue to be adequately and effectively protected when their works are disseminated through new technologies and communications systems such as the Internet. The treaties thus clarify that existing rights continue to apply in the digital environment. They also create new online rights. To maintain a fair balance of interests between the owners of rights and the general public, the treaties further clarify that countries have reasonable flexibility in establishing exceptions or limitations to rights in the digital environment. Countries may, in appropriate circumstances, grant exceptions for uses deemed to be in the public interest, such as for non-profit educational and research purposes.

The treaties also require countries to provide not only the rights themselves, but also two types of technological adjuncts to the rights. These are intended to ensure that rightholders can effectively use technology to protect their rights and to license their works online. The first, known as the “anti-circumvention” provision, tackles the problem of “hacking”: it requires countries to provide adequate legal protection and effective remedies against the circumvention of technological measures (such as encryption) used by rightholders to protect their rights. The second type of technological adjuncts safeguards the reliability and integrity of the online marketplace by requiring countries to prohibit the deliberate alteration or deletion of electronic “rights management information”: that is, information which accompanies any protected material, and which identifies the work, its creators, performer, or owner, and the terms and conditions for its use.

The WCT entered into force on March 6, 2002. For the WPPT, the date of entry into force was May 20, 2002. A number of countries have implemented the provisions of the two treaties in their national legislation. TheWIPO Lex database can be consulted to search copyright laws of a wide range of countries.

Which countries are party to the Internet treaties (the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT))?

The list of Contracting Parties to the treaties administered by WIPO are available at /treaties/en/ .

How do I get permission to use somebody else’s work and other subject matters?

You can contact the right owner. For certain types of works and other subject matter, you can get permission from a collective management organization. Collective management organizations license use of works and other subject matter that are protected by copyright and related rights whenever it is impractical for right owners to act individually. There are several international non-governmental organizations that link together national collective management organizations.

How much of someone else’s work can I use without getting permission?

Under most national copyright laws, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work, including quotes, for purposes such as news reporting and private personal use. For further information see the national legislation available in WIPO Lex.

Is computer software protected by copyright?

In the 1970s and 1980s, there were extensive discussions on whether the patent system, the copyright system, or a sui generis system, should provide protection for computer software. These discussions resulted in the generally accepted principle that computer programs should be protected by copyright, whereas apparatus using computer software or software-related inventions should be protected by patent.

Copyright law and patent law provide different types of protection. Copyright protection extends only to expressions, and not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such, whereas a patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. Copyright protection is formality-free in countries party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (the Berne Convention), which means that protection does not depend on compliance with any formalities such as registration or deposit of copies. A patent is generally granted after completing an examination procedure by a government agency. Copyright protection of computer software is established in most countries and harmonized by international treaties to that effect. The law relating to the patentability of software is still not harmonized internationally, but some countries have embraced the patentability of computer software and others have adopted approaches that recognize inventions assisted by computer software.

In view of the complexity of these matters, it is recommended that you contact a practicing lawyer who is specialized in intellectual property or the intellectual property offices of those countries in which you are interested to get protection. You can find a list of URLs and a directory of national and regional intellectual property offices on our Website.

Is a television format protected by copyright?

Broadcasting organizations are protected as holders of related rights under the International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations (Rome Convention). Broadcast content as such, as opposed to broadcast signals, can also be protected by copyright and related rights, depending on the national legislation. Television formats, however, have not been discussed at WIPO as subject of a separate international protection.

Is a character protected by copyright?

A character could be protected under copyright if it is an original expression of an author. Merchandising items such as toys, interactive games, books and clothing including characters can also be protected by intellectual property rights in certain circumstances, mainly copyright and trademarks, along with other areas of law. See the WIPO Report on Character Merchandising (Adobe PDF).

Is a name, title, slogan or logo protected by copyright?

Copyright may or may not be available for titles, slogans, or logos, depending on whether they contain sufficient authorship. In most circumstances copyright does not protect names.

What is the rule concerning copyright and related rights in my country?

While in some countries treaties are “self-executive”, meaning that the provisions of treaties can be directly applied as law, in general copyright and related rights are provided in national legislation of individual countries. International treaties link various national laws by ensuring that at least a minimum level of rights will be granted to creators under each national law. The treaties do not themselves grant rights, but rather require the countries that join the treaties to grant certain rights specified on a nondiscriminatory basis. Copyright laws of a wide range of countries can be consulted from the WIPO Lex database. For further information, you can also contact national copyright administrations.

I have a problem with my copyright. Can you give me a legal advice?

WIPO is an intergovernmental organization, which administers a number of international treaties in the field of intellectual property, and may, at their request, advise governments. WIPO has, however, no mandate to give legal advice to private persons or non-governmental bodies or entities. For advice concerning specific matters, it is recommend that you consult a practicing lawyer who is specialized in intellectual property.


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