Copyright fundamentals

This page explains the most important aspects of copyright and the associated terms. It discusses the different rights you may have as the creator of an original work and what exceptions there are.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a right that is granted to the creator of an original work by law. If you authored a piece, you own the copyright in that piece. Copyright is a so-called 'exclusive' right. This means that as the creator, you get to decide what happens to your work. You have the exclusive right to exploit your work: this is also referred to as exploitation rights.

Copyright takes effect as soon as the work is created. You don't need to request or register anything to own it. Throughout the European Union, copyright lasts until 70 years after the

creator's death. After that, the work is in the public domain. This means the work may be used freely without permission. In the event of the creator's death, the copyright is assigned to the heirs.

Article 1 of the Dutch Copyright Act defines copyright as

"The exclusive right of a creator of a work of literature, science or art or of their legal successors to disclose or reproduce the work subject to the restrictions imposed by law."

Who is the creator?

The creator is the person who created the original work themselves. Creators include writers, artists, directors, composers, producers and photographers. A work can have multiple creators if several people have made original contributions. Sometimes the creator is not the rights holder. For example, if an employee creates something at work, the copyright generally belongs to the employer. In principle, however, most research universities see the employee as the rights holder.

What is a work?

A work is any product of literature, science or art, expressed in any manner or form. According to Dutch law, a work must have an original character, be the result of creative choices, and bear the personal stamp of the creator. Additionally, the form cannot be derived from another work. The following are not considered works:

  • Facts
  • Data
  • Ideas
  • Thoughts
  • Styles
  • Methods and theories Techniques

Data collections may, however, be protected under the Dutch Database Act (in Dutch).

What is the public disclosure of a work?

The public disclosure of a work means that you make it available to the public. This can be done, for example by publishing a work, by giving a public lecture or performance, by posting an article online, or by broadcasting it on the radio, television, or Internet. Permission from the right holder(s) is required to make a work public.

What is understood by reproduction?

Reproduction is any form of copying, including digitizing and downloading. This also includes: creating a compilation, including (parts of) a work in a database, or reusing parts of it in a new work.

The permission from the creator

In exchange for a fee, a creator can give others permission to copy a work and make it public. The creator can also allow free reuse. Permission for an agreed form of reuse (either free or for a fee) is called a licence.

You can also request the creator's permission directly. For example, if you want to use a photo, video or music from someone else, do not hesitate to contact the creator. Explain what you want to use their work for. If you get permission, possibly for a fee, you can usually only use the work for the requested purpose. Do make sure that you make clear arrangements regarding this.

Exploitation right

Exploitation right means the right to make a work public and to reproduce it.

Personality rights

Personality rights are based on the personal connection that exists between the creator and his of her work. They are also called 'moral' rights. These rights allow the creator to object to any compromising of the work. Personality rights cannot  be transferred to another person. They therefore always remain with the creator, even when the exploitation rights to a work have been transferred to someone else. As a creator, it is possible to (partially) waive your personality rights.