Attorney-at-Law Michael Horak, graduate engineer (Electrical Engineering), LL.M. (European Law)
 


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Copyright law:

    • What is a copyright?
    • What can be protected by copyright?
    • What cannot be protected?
    • What is the duration of a copyright?
    • How does a copyright come into being?
    • Are copyrights transferable?
    • An author owns his “words” and not his ”books”.
    • What is the relevance of the copyright notice?

What is a copyright?

Copyright is an exclusive right to copy a literary, musical, artistic or other original. The usual prerequisite for a copyright is a personal intellectual creation. Protection covers works of literature, science and art. These include sound recordings, pictures and performances of an artist as well as e.g. software. As far as the latter is concerned, however, there are special regulations within the Copyright Act. The contents of a domain can be protected by copyright. This does not regard the software the contents are created with, but the way the website is presented.

The term “copyright” does not, however, comprise all aspects of what copyright means. The protection offered does not only deal with the legitimacy of a copy. Similarly, public performance, distribution, translation, alternation and so on of the work as a whole or any substantial part of it are also protected. Furthermore, when looking at them in detail, there are differences between Anglo-American copyright law and its German counterpart, the “Urheberrecht”, which is often referred to by the English term. (Differences include, especially, the so-called personality copyright in German law, which is not transferable, the way in which employees are treated).

What can be protected by copyright?

A copyright protects personal intellectual creations from numerous areas such as literature, drama, music, art, architecture, film and others. Scientific representations are also protected, i.e. sketches, plans, maps and drawings. A personal intellectual creation requires the so-called degree of creation (whereas in the Anglo-American law merely “skill and labour” are expected). It is impossible to handle the question schematically whether this degree of creation exists; even courts decide variously on this matter.

Copyright can also apply to software. So called accomplishments protection rights (not relating to law on competition) are regulated in the Copyright Act as well and concern e.g. data banks.

What cannot be protected?

Ideas as such are not protected, neither by copyright, nor in any other way, according to the principle that “thoughts are free”. It is only a concrete expressive form of an idea that can obtain protection by copyright. An author of a book on German history might have copyright protection for his book. He cannot, however, prohibit the “idea” of a work on German history. Similarly, a person who converts a certain idea of an internet company into reality by means of a personal intellectual creation enjoys protection by copyright for the homepage thus created. The idea as such can be used otherwise, though.

Protection by copyright does not usually cover the title (title protection is possible under trademark law), names, slogans (still disputable) and similar short terms. Mass articles of average „originality” are not protected, either, due to an insufficient degree of creation.

What is the duration of a copyright?

A copyright is usually effective during the lifetime of the author and 70 years after his death. In case of joint authorship the author who lives longest is decisive.

How does a copyright come into being?

In Germany, just as in many countries nowadays, protection by copyright is guaranteed automatically, when the legal requirements are fulfilled. Entry in the register is not necessary and no official fees must be paid (it is in principle recommended to deposit a work as evidence for the purpose of proving authorship).

Are copyrights transferable?

Exploitation rights are in principle transferable. „Copyright” cannot, however, be sold, since the so-called personality copyright remains always with the author.

As far as the transfer of exploitation rights in favour of the author is concerned, the Copyright Act assumes that in case of doubt he will only transfer what is necessary in order to comply with the contract (purpose transfer theory).

As far as the granting of exploitation rights is concerned, so-called licences play a central role, which cover a wide range of legal, factual and financial regulations.

An author owns his “words” and not his “books”.

Authorship is not synonymous with ownership. An author of a book has an intangible (intellectual) right to it. This means that illegal copies of a book do not “belong” to its author. Nonetheless, he can enforce their destruction.

What is the relevance of the copyright notice?

Such an indication is recommended on every piece of work which is suitable for it, since it leads to a so-called shift in the burden of proof. This means that it is not the author of the work labelled with such a notice, but the third party, who has to prove authorship.

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