Copyright is a broad field of law that aims to regulate the legal situation of artists and creators and their legal successors. The Copyright and Related Rights Act also serves to standardise copyright protection.

Find out when and why it is worth investing in copyright protection.

What is a work under copyright law?

Pursuant to the Act on Copyright and Related Rights (hereinafter referred to as the Act), a work is any manifestation of creative activity of an individual character, determined in any form regardless of value, purpose, and manner of expression.

The scope of the Act primarily includes works:

  • literary, journalistic, scientific, cartographic, computer programs,
  • plastic,
  • photographic,
  • violin-making,
  • industrial design,
  • architecture, urban planning, architecture and urban planning
  • music and verbal and musical,
  • scenic, stage-musical, choreographic and pantomimic,
  • audiovisual (including film).

Obviously, the list is exemplary, therefore in each case the author’s achievements should be analysed individually to determine whether they have the characteristics of a work.

The doctrine points to three prerequisites, which must be cumulatively met in order for a work to gain statutory protection: The work must be:

  • The result of human labour

The first premise precludes copyright protection for, inter alia, works of nature or made as a result of automation of a machine process.

  • Determinable

The identification of a work consists in making the work visible in such a form that at least one person other than the author can become acquainted with it. The moment the work is established, the protection becomes effective by operation of law.

It is irrelevant whether the establishment is permanent (e.g. a painted picture) or temporary (e.g. light visualizations). It should be emphasized that also an unfinished work, its preliminary stage (e.g. a beta version of software) or even a work which has not been fixed in any way is protected.

  • Creativity of individual character.

The individualization of the work of a given author may pose many difficulties. It is not just about the creation and realisation of the author’s ideas, but about capturing the author’s characteristic skills, knowledge and sensitivity. Works should be distinguished by the “stamp of the creator” and a characteristic feature.

Therefore, trivial and routine works are generally not subject to copyright protection (however, it should be emphasised that the line of rulings by the courts on this subject is inconsistent and there is no uniform position as to how “different” the work must be from competing works).

Do you program? Or do you plan advertising campaigns? If you have any doubts as to whether your works may be protected under copyright law, contact a law firm with many years of experience in protecting creators.

What industries are regulated by copyright law?

Under the Act, copyright in a work vests in the author (or authors if there were several). However, the Act introduces a number of presumptions that may modify the scope of statutory protection. The modifications concern in particular:

  • works created in the course of employment duties,
  • computer programs,
  • scientific works.

Copyright protection is enjoyed by a wide range of independent creators. These include, among others

  • Visual artists (e.g. painters, sculptors),
  • musicians and composers,
  • writers and poets,
  • programmers,
  • dancers,
  • copywriters,
  • designers,
  • scientists,
  • photographers.

As the evolution of the market forces the emergence of new professions, the Act will expand its effect.

Types of copyright

The Act protects creators on two levels:

  • author’s moral rights,
  • author’s economic rights.

What is the difference between these terms and to what extent can you dispose of the different types of rights?

Author’s moral rights

Moral rights define the author’s relationship with the work, i.e. the non-economic aspect of creation. It is a bond that is unlimited in time and cannot be waived, sold or otherwise transferred to a third party. The emanations of moral rights are:

  • authorship of the work,
  • authorship of the work,
  • marking the work with one’s own name, a pseudonym or making it available anonymously,
  • integrity of content and form and fair use,
  • deciding when a work is first made available to the public,
  • supervise the use of the work.

The doctrine points to even broader rights of the author, among which it is worth mentioning the right to withdraw a work from circulation or the possibility to oppose the destruction of a work which was created in one play only.

Author’s economic rights

In practice, property rights are more controversial than personal copyrights. These can be transferred to other persons, enabling them to exercise their author’s rights to a certain extent.

If an author has not transferred his/her author’s economic rights to another person (by means of a transfer agreement or license) it is assumed that the author may use all fields of exploitation concerning the work. A field of exploitation is a specified way in which a work can be used without infringing another person.

In the case of economic copyrights, the legislator allows for permitted use of the work for one’s own purposes and the right of quotation – exceptions from the principle of the necessity to obtain the author’s consent to use the created work.

It should be remembered that the disposition of author’s economic rights may also occur as a result of:

  • statutory termination of protection due to lapse of time,
  • transfer of rights to legal successors by inheritance.

When deciding to transfer the rights to other persons by contract, the author may stipulate that the acquirer cannot transfer the rights to further persons (this is the so-called “sublicense prohibition”).

When entering into an agreement transferring author’s economic rights, the parties should pay particular attention to the fields of exploitation. According to the law, they cannot be presumed. It is also assumed that the right to use a work may only concern the ways of disseminating the work, which were known at the moment of concluding the agreement.

In practice, this means that the development of an innovative method of transmitting an audio/video signal by a licensee does not entitle the licensee to distribute the contract work in this way. It will be necessary to conclude an annex in which the parties will add new fields of exploitation.

A law firm with experience in drafting and reviewing contracts can prepare for you a copyright agreement that takes into account the interests of both parties and necessary elements such as:

  • fields of exploitation,
  • duration and scope of the agreement,
  • remuneration,
  • grounds for withdrawal and termination of the contract.

Term of protection of author’s economic rights

How long an author can enjoy statutory protection depends primarily on the type of work. Although the term of protection is always 70 years, the way the term is calculated may vary.

  • As a rule, rights expire 70 years after the death of the author (or the last of the co-authors).
  • If the author of the work is unknown, the time limit begins when the work is first made available to the public with the author’s permission, unless the author’s pseudonym is clear or the author has previously revealed his identity.
  • If the author’s economic rights are vested by law in a person other than the author, the period shall be calculated from the date of distribution or determination of the work.
  • In the case of audiovisual works, the term shall be calculated from the death of the last of the following: the principal director, the author of the screenplay, the author of the dialogues and the composer of the soundtrack composed for the film.
  • In the case of verbal and musical works, where the verbal layer and the musical layer have been created specifically for the work in question, the period shall be calculated from the death of the author of the verbal work or of the musical work, whichever is the last to occur.

Determining the term of protection is not made easier by the fact that for works distributed in parts, episodes or excerpts, the term is calculated for each part separately.

If you want to be sure that you are not infringing someone else’s rights to a work by your actions (or, on the contrary, that you think someone has infringed your copyright), consider getting help from qualified lawyers.

Why protect intellectual property?

The non-material value of copyrighted works is very difficult to estimate. However, it is certain that unlawful use of the result of someone else’s work results in measurable and severe financial losses for each author.

Remember that when seeking protection of your rights, you may use a number of different claims. In the case of protection of author’s economic rights these include demands for

  • cessation of infringements,
  • removal of consequences of the infringement,
  • compensation for damage caused.

In addition to the basic catalogue of claims, the Act also provides for the possibility to:

  • demand to publish an appropriate announcement in the press,
  • withdrawal from circulation, transfer to the right holder or destruction of objects, means and materials used by the infringer.

Catalogue of claims in case of infringement of author’s moral rights, the author may demand:

  • to cease the act,
  • removal of the consequences of the infringement (e.g. by filing an appropriate statement),
  • an award of damages or an appropriate amount for a social purpose.

Always make sure that you use all the claims to which you are entitled!

How can a law firm help you?

With the help of a law firm that has many years of experience in the practical application of copyright regulations, you can count on

  • professional drafting of an agreement transferring economic copyrights,
  • representation before courts in the event of a dispute over copyright infringement,
  • verification whether a work created by you will be covered by copyright protection,
  • determining whether you can count on preferential treatment from the legislator in connection with the works you have created (e.g. computer programmes),
  • assistance in determining whether your copyright in a given work has expired and you can safely use it without the creator’s consent.

Take care of your copyright. That way, you protect your work and your reputation as an author!

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