What is a copyright?

Copyright protects the creations of the mind, covering masterpieces of writers, sculptors or painters, and also creations and performances of all kind. However, ideas, thoughts, principles, methods, theories or concepts are not copyright protected unless originally represented in a concrete appearance (e.g. a novel, a software, an architectural work, a music recording, etc.). Only their appearance will be protected.
There is no administrative procedure required to become the owner of the copyright, which comes into existence at the materialization of the work (provided it meets the conditions of protection).
However, in some countries registration of the creation is necessary in order to fully benefit from the protection and in other countries registrations might only be used to prove when the creation was made.

Who owns the rights?

According to the basic rule, the author is the person who created the work. He is the only owner of all rights on the work. The person whose name figures on the work is presumed to be the author, unless otherwise proven. For works accomplished under a labour agreement or “to order” (also called “work for hire”), the author is the person who actually creates the work and thus owns all the rights. If the employer wishes to obtain those rights, he has to stipulate so by means of a contract clause. The rules are different from country to country. In the U.S., for example, if the creation is made in accordance with the terms of employment of a worker, or is made on specific commission, the employer is immediately the legal author (i.e. corporate authorship).

Databases and Copyright

The creator of a database or legal successor – in particular the creator’s employer if a transfer of rights has been agreed (e.g. within a contract of employment) – is, in principle, the owner of the copyright. The physical or moral person, who, at the creation of the database, supports the investment indispensable to its development, also benefits from a protection. This protection extends over 15 years starting from January 1 the year after publication of the database. It can be extended for the same duration if obvious development is made to the database. In order to avoid future problems, it is highly recommended that creators and developers be asked to sign a relatively simple agreement, by which they make a commitment to give up copyright on elements developed under their employer’s sponsorship.


Because there are no formalities, creators are protected as soon as their work fulfils the conditions of protection (in accordance with the law of the concerned country). In practice, this applies to most countries of the world.