Copyright is the right of protection that determines who has the right to reproduce creative works.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a right given to the creator of a creative work. It helps to ensure that the creator of a work receives remuneration, and copyright laws ensure that the public has access to works under certain conditions.

The purpose of copyright is to protect how an idea is expressed in a creative work. However, it only extends to the particular expression of the idea, not the idea itself. Most types of copyright are subjected to limitations based on the public interest. This includes exemptions such as fair use.

How long does it last?

In most cases, the copyright to a creative work expires 50 to 100 years after the creator dies. 

The duration and whether reproductions of the creative work are allowed is subject to particular formal rules depends on the country, state, and jurisdiction. Copyright laws around the world are somewhat standardized due to international treaties such as the Universal Copyright Convention and the Berne Convention. The specific requirements and legislation can vary from country to country.

Copyright in employment contracts

Many employment contracts, shareholders’ agreements, and freelance contracts contain sections that deal with copyright and intellectual property rights. These sections outline whether the employer or employee possesses potential immaterial works. Examples of such works are text products, works of art, designs or inventions.

A license agreement can be used if you wish to transfer or license the copyright. Such an agreement can be valid for a limited period of time or contain specifications regarding the recipient’s right to use the creative work. It is possible to transfer ownership and the right of use in exchange for either a lump sum or royalty payments. With royalty payments, the copyright owner typically receives a payment with each sold unit of the creative work.

The context is very important when determining the copyright-terms of a product. Copyright, inventions, and patents that are created during working hours typically belong to the employer, even though this is not explicitly stated in the directions of copyright law.

Since the employer pays a salary, the copyright is regarded as the employer’s acquisition. This means that the employer will typically own the copyright and therefore also the right to use works that are created during working hours, even though it is not explicitly stated in the employment contract.

If a creative work is produced in leisure time and it does not otherwise have any relation with work tasks in the company, the copyright will usually not belong to the employer. You can find templates for employment contracts here.

Copyright infringement

If somebody else uses a creative work without obtaining the proper approval, it is considered an infringement of the copyright. 

The recompensation for infringement consists of a compensatory fee. The rule-of-thumb for infringement is that the fee amounts to twice the market value of the product whose copyright has been infringed. One half is payment, while the other is reimbursement.

Design and software copyright

The copyright of a computer program, such as a SaaS platform, which is created by an employee during their work or under the direction of an employee, belongs to the employer. This is stated in copyright law.

European Union

In the EU, copyright law regarding computer programs falls under the Computer Programs Directive. It defines copyright protection and states that the owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to copy the program, translate, adapt or introduce alterations to the program, and distribute the program to the public. There are limitations to this. The legal owner of a program is allowed to create any copies necessary to use the program, including back-ups.

United States

In the United States, copyright law regarding software is subject to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA also protects legal owners of a program who, due to maintenance, repair or backup, have to copy the program, as long as these copies are subsequently destroyed if the rights to the program expires.

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