Copyright (or author’s right) is a legal term used to describe the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works. Works covered by copyright range from books, music, paintings, sculpture, and films, to computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps, and technical drawings.
Exhaustive lists of works covered by copyright are usually not to be found in legislation. Nonetheless, broadly speaking, works commonly protected by copyright throughout the world include:
- literary works such as novels, poems, plays, reference works, newspaper articles;
- computer programs, databases;
- films, musical compositions, and choreography;
- artistic works such as paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculpture;
- architecture; and
- advertisements, maps, and technical drawings.
Copyright protection extends only to expressions, and not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such. Copyright may or may not be available for a number of objects such as titles, slogans, or logos, depending on whether they contain sufficient authorship.
There are two types of rights under copyright:
- economic rights, which allow the rights owner to derive financial reward from the use of their works by others; and
- moral rights, which protect the non-economic interests of the author.
Most copyright laws state that the rights owner has the economic right to authorize or prevent certain uses in relation to a work or, in some cases, to receive remuneration for the use of their work (such as through collective management). The economic rights owner of a work can prohibit or authorize:
- its reproduction in various forms, such as printed publication or sound recording;
- its public performance, such as in a play or musical work;
- its recording, for example, in the form of compact discs or DVDs;
- its broadcasting, by radio, cable or satellite;
- its translation into other languages; and
- its adaptation, such as a novel into a film screenplay.
Examples of widely recognized moral rights include the right to claim authorship of a work and the right to oppose changes to a work that could harm the creator's reputation.
In the majority of countries, and according to the Berne Convention, copyright protection is obtained automatically without the need for registration or other formalities.
Most countries nonetheless have a system in place to allow for the voluntary registration of works. Such voluntary registration systems can help solve disputes over ownership or creation, as well as facilitate financial transactions, sales, and the assignment and/or transfer of rights.
Please note that WIPO does not offer a copyright registration system or a searchable copyright database. Find out more about copyright registration and documentation systems.
Read the full list of copyright FAQs.
Copyright touches our lives on a daily basis. Whether you read a book, watch a film, transfer music, or take a photo, copyright issues are ever-present. Explore copyright topics and issues.
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Publishers play a key role in making literary works known and available to the reading public. They are responsible for acquiring, preparing, managing, marketing, selling and distributing such works.
Copyright law aims to balance the interests of those who create content, with the public interest in having the widest possible access to that content. WIPO administers several international treaties in the area of copyright and related rights.
Copyright-related treaties administered by WIPO
- Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances
- Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
- Brussels Convention Relating to the Distribution of Program-Carrying Signals Transmitted by Satellite
- Geneva Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms
- Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled
- Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations
- WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT)
- WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT)
WIPO Lex is a global database that provides free of charge access to legal information on intellectual property (IP), including IP laws and regulations, WIPO-administered and IP related treaties, and leading judicial decisions on IP.
The Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) is the forum where WIPO member states and observers meet to discuss, debate and decide on issues related to the development of balanced international legal frameworks for copyright to meet society's evolving needs.
WIPO for Creators
This joint initiative between WIPO and the Music Rights Awareness Foundation supports creators around the world in ensuring they are fairly remunerated for their work by increasing knowledge and awareness of their IP rights.
Charter | Press Release
Accessible Books Consortium
The Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) aims to increase the number of books worldwide in accessible formats – such as braille, audio and large print – and to make them available to people who are blind, have low vision or are otherwise print disabled.
Marrakesh VIP Treaty
The Marrakesh Treaty underpins the ABC’s work, making the production and international transfer of specially-adapted books for people with blindness or visual impairments easier.
Making a living in the creative industries
These national studies look at the size of copyright-based industries on a nation by nation basis. They consider economic contribution in terms of their share of GDP, employment generation, and trade.
Through annual surveys on the law and practice of copyright, WIPO tracks the income generated by specific copyrights (e.g. private copying, text and image levies) in different countries. These studies present the results of the surveys.
Copyright performance studies focus on the specific role played by copyright and related rights in selected industries. WIPO also makes available draft guidelines on assessing broader copyright impacts in the social, economic, and cultural spheres.
Collective management of copyright
Collective management is the exercise of copyright and related rights by organizations acting in the interest and on behalf of the owners of rights.
For example, an author may allow his/her work to be performed on stage under certain conditions, or a musician may agree to have a performance recorded on CD. However it can be impractical for an author or a musician to contact every single theater or radio station to negotiate licenses for the use of their work. This is where collective rights, and in particular collective management organizations (CMOs), come in.
- WIPO Connect is an IT system for CMOs to facilitate the collective management of copyrights.