SWD Impact assessment on the modernisation of EU copyright rules – EU copyright rules

Copyright and related rights are rights granted to authors (copyright) and to performers, producers and broadcasters (related or neighbouring rights). They include so-called “economic rights” which enable rightholders to control (license) the use of their works (e.g. a novel) and other protected material (such as a record or a broadcast), and be remunerated for their use.

These rights are limited in time (in Europe, between 50 and 70 years). Economic rights (and their term of protection) are, to a large extent, harmonised at EU level. Authors are also granted so-called “moral rights” (notably the right to claim authorship and the right to object to any derogatory action in relation to the work). Moral rights are not harmonised at EU level.

Copyright systems balance the recognition of rights with exceptions in order to facilitate the use of protected content in specific circumstances, notably to facilitate the achievement of specific public policy objectives such as education or access to information. Exceptions provide a “legal authorisation” to beneficiaries to use protected material without needing to seek authorisation from the rightholders.

The EU copyright rules set out an exhaustive list of exceptions to rights across various copyright directives. The harmonisation achieved is however limited: most of the exceptions are optional (Member States may decide to implement them or not), and broadly formulated, leaving Member States (MS) a relatively wide margin of manoeuvre when implementing them.

Copyright systems also provide for procedures and remedies against infringements of copyright (enforcement). These have been partly harmonised at EU level (e.g. evidence-gathering powers for judicial authorities, powers to force parties commercially involved in an infringement to provide information on the origin of the infringing goods, provisions on the payment of damages).

Licensing is the main mechanism for the exercise of copyright and related rights. Depending on the relevant right, the type of use and the sector, licences are most often granted directly by the right holder (e.g. film producer, software producer) or via collective management organisations (CMOs), representing normally a category of rightholders (e.g. authors) and of rights (e.g. rights in musical works).

Collective management of exclusive rights (these are typically the most important rights for economic exploitation, e.g. distribution in the physical world and making available in the online world) is voluntary, except in certain specific cases allowed by law and copyright international treaties. For example, the “Satellite and Cable Directive” imposes mandatory collective management of cable retransmission rights in order to facilitate the clearance of rights by cable operators.

Copyright is territorial (referring to national territories) in the sense that the rights granted under copyright are provided for in national law, and not in the form of unitary rights at EU level. For example, the author of a book has not a single EU-wide right of reproduction but 28 different national rights of reproduction. The geographical scope of these 28 rights is limited to the territory of the MS that grants the right in question.