‘Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.’

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights


The person who has created a literary or artistic work has copyright to that work.

Establishment of copyright does not require any registration or other procedures. A copyright exists automatically when a person has created a work that crosses the threshold for originality. The original copyright cannot belong to a company. A different case is involved when the original copyright holder transfers economic rights related to the copyright to, for example, his or her employer.

Copyright protects the personal form of expression of a work. It does not protect an idea or a theme, only the individual, original expression manifested in the work.

For a work to be protected, it must be inventive and original; i.e., it must extend beyond the threshold for originality. However, high artistic quality is not required, so the threshold for originality is quite low for works of visual art. Artistic works include paintings, sculptures, drawings, graphic art, and works of environmental art. Video and multimedia installations are usually considered to be audiovisual works.

Also, a draft or an incomplete work are protected.

Related rights protect the creator’s performance.

For photographs, copyright protection is provided when the threshold of originality is met. To receive copyright protection, a photograph needs to be inventive and original. Work falling short of the threshold for originality, so-called ordinary photographs, is granted a lighter form of protection called related rights.

The majority of the visual artwork is protected by copyright. In addition to photographs, the lighter protection of ‘related rights’ is significant mainly for the audiovisual sector. This applies especially to the protection provided for a performing artist and the producer of a sound and visual recording. Related rights differ from copyright in that the object under the protection of related rights is not the work itself but some other performance by a person.

The protection provided under related rights does not require that the threshold of originality be met. Related rights are valid for 50 years from the occurrence of the event under protection (such as a photograph being taken).

The protection provided by related rights is more limited in content than copyright is. The protection provided varies, depending on the target of the related rights.

Copyright gives the author exclusive rights for the use of his or her work.

The author, or creator, has an exclusive right to decide on the use of his or her works. A person who wants to use a work needs permission to do so. Usually one must compensate the copyright holder for such permission.

Copyright consists of economic and moral rights. Economic rights include the right to make copies of the work, distribute the copies, and present the work in public. Moral rights protect the author’s persona. The name of the author must be mentioned with the work (in line with the right to be acknowledged as creator). Also, the work may not be altered in a way that impinges on its artistic value (in keeping with the right to respect).

The term of copyright protection is 70 years from the creator’s death.

The term of protection is the same throughout the area of the European Union. After the term of protection, the works are free to use. Moral rights, on the other hand, do not expire.

There are limitations on copyright.

Copyright gives the creator of a work an exclusive right for the use of his or her work. However, the creator may, at his or her discretion, transfer the rights under the copyright either in full or in part. In practice, full transfer of copyrights in the visual arts sector is rare, while partial transfers are commonplace.

In addition to limitations agreed upon in contracts, copyrights are restricted directly in accordance with legislation.

Separate instructions on the transfer of copyright and limitations of copyright are included in the section The artist’s copyright and its limitations.