IRIS Plus 2000-5: Who Owns Electronic Rights?

Author: Christina Lampe, Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam

Published: 01/10/2000

The problems concerning the allocation of copyrights are as old as the history of copyright itself. The contractual struggle over the ownership of those  rights was essentially a simple one in the sense that both authors and "exploiters" (broadcasters/publishers/producers) wanted all rights in copyright works. The arguments put forward by the authors quite simply is that they are the authors, and that this justifies the allocation of the authors' rights to the authors themselves. The exploiters argue that they need protection from third parties – a protection they would have if they had separate publishers' rights or exploiters' rights or broadcasters' rights. Secondly, the exploiters argue that they need the rights so that they can freely further exploit the works that they have commissioned. Finally, it could be said that the exploiters should have the rights because they have paid for the works and that this justifies the allocation to the exploiters themselves.

The digital environment has fuelled the discussion over the allocation of rights and raised it to a spectacular level that has been highlighted in the flurry of case law in Europe and the United States. Journalists, largely, initiated these cases, and they have won practically all those cases brought. The Courts called upon to address the cases have considered that any rights in pre-existing works belong to the authors unless specifically licensed or transferred. This case law has led, in turn, to the redrafting of the contractual language between authors and exploiters, and has even led to some preliminary legislative initiative.

The aim of the workshop was to take stock of what the current position is regarding the allocation of rights and to exchange knowledge and information about the issue. Finally it was hoped that some practical solutions could be found.