A person who has created a literary or artistic work has copyright to that work. Copyright protects the author’s personal expression in a work of art. Copyright does not protect the idea or subject of the artwork, only the independent and original expression of it through the work.

The existence of copyright does not require registration or any other action to be taken. The author’s copyright exists automatically upon the creation of a work that passes the threshold of originality, i.e. is an independent and original creation.

Copyrighted works vary greatly, and they do not have to be of high artistic quality. For works of visual art, the criteria are quite low. Works of visual art include paintings, sculptures, drawings, art prints and environmental art. Video or multimedia works are usually considered audio-visual works.

The owner of the copyright is always the author, i.e. an actual person. Companies and other organisations can only own copyright transferred from an author or photographer. This also applies to artwork and photographs created in an employment relationship, including a public-service employment relationship.

A sketch or unfinished work can also be protected by copyright.

Copyright gives the author the exclusive right to determine the use of their work.

The author has the exclusive right to decide on the use of their work. The same applies to a visual artist who creates a work of art and so has the right to determine the use of the work. This right includes the use and distribution of the work in all its forms, both original and altered, and includes the depiction of the work using different methods or art forms.

Anyone who wants to use the work must obtain the permission of the author. If permission is obtained, remuneration is normally paid to the author.

Copyright consists of economic and moral rights. The economic rights include the right to reproduce the work, distribute it and make it available to the public. Moral rights include the right of paternity and right of integrity. Moral rights protect the author’s character. The right of paternity means that the author’s name must be stated in connection to the work in accordance with proper usage. The right of integrity prohibits the alteration of the work in a way that insults its artistic value. Moral rights cannot be transferred to someone else.

The author may, at his or her discretion, transfer all or some of his or her copyright-protected economic rights. In practice, the transfer of all copyrights is rare in the visual arts sector but partial transfers are common. More detailed guidelines on transferring copyright can be found under Economic copyright of the visual artist.

Copyright protection lasts 70 years after the author’s death. This term of protection applies throughout the EU. After the term of protection expires, works can be freely used by anyone. Moral rights, on the other hand, never expire.

Copyright also includes the right of access which means that the artist, and to some extent his or her heirs, has the right to access the work. The exercise of the right of access requires that access to the work is necessary for the artistic work of the author or for the exercise of his or her economic rights and does not cause undue disruption to the owner or holder of the work. The right of access may be exercised, for example, for the purpose of photographing the work.

Related rights protect the performance of work

Copyright also covers photographs that pass the threshold of originality. To be protected by copyright, a photograph must by independent and original. Ordinary photographs that do not meet these criteria are protected by so-called related rights, which are not as extensive as copyright.

The majority of visual artworks are protected by copyright. The more limited protection provided by related rights is relevant mostly to photographs and the audio-visual sector. This protection covers performing artists and producers of sound and video recordings in particular.

The protection provided by related rights does not require any criteria to be met. The term of protection of related rights is 70 or 50 years from the end of the year the work was displayed, recorded or published.

Related rights provide more limited protection than copyright. The extent of the protection varies depending on the work.