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The authors of literary, scientific and artistic works enjoy protection for their works. However, there is a general interest in the use of many such intellectual creations. In particular, there is a need in research and teaching to reuse other people's material. Copyright bridges the gap between the protection of intellectual property and the requirements of the knowledge society. The use of protected works for the purposes of research and teaching, especially in libraries, is subject to special regulations.


The works whose creators are protected by copyright include written works such as printed or electronic books, but also musical works, photographic works and film works, as well as other representations of a scientific or technical nature such as drawings, plans and maps. For these works, copyright creates a balance between the creators' interest in protecting their works and the general public's interest in using them. Last but not least, the interests of collecting societies and manufacturers of reproduction equipment and storage media play a role in our information and knowledge society.


Copyright as the subjective right of the creator to his or her personal intellectual creation has two functions. On the one hand, as a moral right, it protects the creator in their intellectual and personal relationships to the work and in the use of the work: They have the right to determine whether and how their work is published. They have the right to have their authorship acknowledged. And it can determine whether the work should be given an author's name and which name should be used. It may also prohibit distortions and other impairments of its work to a certain extent. On the other hand, copyright also protects the material interest of the creator in receiving appropriate remuneration for the use of the work.


Copyright itself arises and remains with the intellectual creator of a work. A distinction must be made between the right to exploit the work (in particular to reproduce, distribute or exhibit) and to use it (enjoyment of the work), as well as the (material) ownership and possession of individual pieces of work in which the work is embodied . Different rights to a work are often distributed in a complex way. The answer to the question of who is allowed to do what with a (printed or electronic) text must be correspondingly differentiated - and to whom he or she has to pay how much for it.


The handout Copyright in Science from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research provides an overview of the copyright situationfor research, teaching and libraries; the current version is as of July 2023. It is worth taking a look at the report, especially regarding the use of audiovisual material Audiovisual materials in research and teaching – an overview of copyright aspects by Prof. Paul Klimpel and Fabian Rack.


Below you will find information on some copyright topics that are important in research and teaching as well as in a library context. Please note that these instructions cannot be conclusive and therefore do not enable a final legal classification of specific cases.

Laws, regulations, official decrees and announcements as well as decisions do not enjoy copyright protection. Official works in this sense are in the public domain. There are therefore no restrictions on their use and distribution.

Libraries are allowed to lend the physical copies of a work that are in their collection. To this day, libraries fulfill one of their central tasks by lending out printed publications.

The author or rights holder must be paid an appropriate fee for borrowing printed books from libraries. This legal claim to payment of the so-called library royalty is asserted by collecting societies. The amount of this library royalty is agreed upon by the federal and state governments as the sponsors of libraries on the one hand and the collecting societies on the other. The total amount of library royalties paid annually by the federal and state governments can be found in the transparency reports published by the Central Office for Library Royalties . It currently amounts to around 14 million euros. The sum is distributed by the collecting societies to the rights holders according to a key.

The Creative Commons (abbreviated CC) are general licenses with which the creator of a work generally allows other people to use a work in a certain way and under certain conditions.

If a work is made available under the CC BY license (in the current version 4.0), it may be redistributed and modified for any purpose (including commercial purposes). However, the prerequisite for use is that the name of the author is mentioned, the license is specified and it is also stated whether the work has been changed.

Under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license

If a work is made available under the CC0 license (in the current version 1.0), it may be used and redistributed without any further requirements. With the CC0 license, the author waives the rights that arise from his or her position as author. The work is thus released into the public domain and is from this point onwards in the public domain.

Under the terms of the CC0 1.0 license

Copyright expires seventy years after the death of the author, and in the case of multiple authors, seventy years after the death of the longest-living co-author. The work that has been protected until then becomes public domain after this so-called standard copyright protection period has expired and can therefore be used without granting a license and without paying any remuneration. The period begins at the end of the calendar year in which the author's death occurred.

For example: The author, who created a work in 1973, died on 15 July, 1983. The relevant period of seventy years begins at the end of 1983. The copyright to the work expires at the end of the year 2053, i.e. on 31 December, 2053 at midnight. From this point on, i.e. from 1 January, 2054 at midnight, the work is in the public domain.

For anonymous and pseudonymous works, copyright expires seventy years after publication.

In many cases, the law itself allows the use of works that are in and of themselves protected by copyright. These are legal exceptions to copyright protection, i.e. limitations to copyright. This means that the respective works may be used under the conditions and restrictions provided for in the law without obtaining permission to use them, i.e. without a license. These barriers make use possible or at least practicable in many cases.

Legally permitted uses include teaching, teaching and scientific research as well as libraries, archives and educational institutions.

Libraries may send copies of up to 10% of a published work directly to users upon individual order. Individual (entire) articles from specialist journals or scientific journals may also be submitted.

Content from newspapers and general interest magazines may not be transmitted.

To illustrate teaching at universities, up to 15% of a published work may be reproduced, distributed, made publicly accessible and otherwise publicly reproduced for non-commercial purposes, for teachers and participants in the respective event, for teachers and examiners at the same university as well as for third parties, insofar as this serves to present learning results at the university.

However, illustrations, individual articles from the same specialist journal or scientific journal, other small works and out-of-print works may be used in full.

However, reproduction by recording on image or sound carriers and public reproduction of a work while it is being publicly performed, performed or demonstrated, as well as the reproduction of graphic recordings of musical works, is not permitted unless this is necessary for making them publicly accessible.

The right to use a work in certain ways can be granted by way of a usage permit. Such permission to use is also known as a license. This can be an individual license, for example in the form of permission to reproduce a text or perform a musical work. The granting of such a license should be made in writing.

However, it is also possible to grant a free license, which generally allows the author to use a work in a certain way and under certain conditions. The most important free licenses are the Creative Commons licenses (abbreviated CC).

Public lectures, performances or demonstrations of a work may only be recorded on video or audio recordings with the consent of the authorized person.

It is permissible to reproduce, distribute and publicly reproduce works that are permanently located on public paths, streets or squares using painting or graphics, photographs or film. In the case of buildings, these powers only extend to the external appearance. The reproductions may not be made on a building.

The production of so-called private copies is permitted in principle. Individual copies of a work for private use are permitted. The prerequisite is always that the reproduction is not made for profit purposes and that the reproduction does not use a template that was either obviously produced illegally or made publicly available in a clearly illegal manner.

Libraries may reproduce a work from their holdings for the purposes of accessibility, indexing, cataloging, preservation and restoration. Reproduction may be carried out both in an analog or digital manner.

If the reproduction is made for the purpose of indexing, cataloging, preservation or restoration, it is free of charge. In the case of reproductions for the purpose of making them accessible, however, the rights holders are entitled to payment of appropriate compensation from the manufacturers of devices and storage media whose type is used to make such reproductions.

Plans and drafts for works of fine art may only be carried out with the consent of the authorized person.

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Lars Iking
Lars Iking