Copyright in France

Any kind of industrial or artistic creation is protected in France by Copyright Law.

Copyright law is governed by Section I of the French Intellectual Property Code.

What types of works are eligible for protection under copyright law?

All works of intellectual creation are protected by copyright law, based simply upon their creation, without any formal requirements.
The following conditions must be satisfied in order to benefit from copyright protection:

  • the work must be fixed in a material form; and
  • the work must be original. A work is considered original if it is endowed with the personality of its author: therefore, if the work is the "fruit of the creation of its author", it is original.

Thus, as long as they fulfill the two conditions of materiality and originality, every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression, is eligible for copyright protection in France, such as works of plastic arts, designs, paintings, sculptures, lithographs, engravings, architectural works, works of applied art, plastic works relating to architecture, science and other fields, fashion articles, software, books, brochures and other writings, conferences, speeches, sermons and other works of the same nature, titles, advertising campaigns, photographs, cinematographic works, screen plays and musical compositions with or without words.

What does copyright law not protect?

  • ideas, only the expression of the idea is protected under copyright law. Thus, the idea of creating an object would not be protected while the object itself would be protected.
  • works lacking originality, including any works created without any human intervention, direct or indirect (automatically created by a machine, or resulting from nature and not modified by man, such as a stone, branch or flower), servile and mechanical reproductions.
  • works that are exclusively utilitarian or functional: for example the body of a screw, or the teeth of a gear, which may be eligible for protection as a patent if the conditions of patentability are satisfied
  • the titles of intellectual creations that lack originality: in order to be protected under copyright law, the title must not be generic or descriptive. Thus, the title "Karate" for a magazine for martial arts was not considered to be distinctive enough to benefit from copyright protection.

Is the registration of a work necessary to obtain copyright protection?

No, copyright law protects all intellectual works automatically, without any formal filing or other requirements. Nevertheless, it is advisable to register one’s work with a company like ARTEMA in order to fix the date of the creation of the work and benefit from a presumption of ownership.

Must one indicate the owner of the copyright directly on the copyrighted work?

No, this is not necessary in order to benefit from copyright protection in France. It is nevertheless advisable to indicate on the work and all reproductions thereof that such work is protected by a copyright. This notice will serve to inform the public that the work is registered and to grant protection in the countries that require such notice (in particular, in order to be granted damages in an infringement action).

It is advisable to include the following notice on all works:

©, date of the first divulgation and name of the author.

What rights are granted to the author or owner of a copyright under French Law?

The author owns both the intellectual property rights as well as the moral rights to his work.

Intellectual Property Rights

The intellectual property rights of the author are the following:

  • Representation right, which consists of the communication of the work to the public by any means (television broadcasting, diffusion on a computer network such as the Internet, exhibition to the public…)
  • Reproduction right, which consists of the fixing of the work in a material form, such as a book, poster, magazine, CD-ROM, disk or on a computer server.

The author, or the party to whom the rights were transferred, may claim intellectual property rights to the work during the life of the author plus 70 years following his death. After such date, the work enters the public domain and may therefore be used freely.

The intellectual property rights of the author may be transferred in whole or part.

Any representation or reproduction of the work without the authorization of the owner of the rights constitutes an act of infringement.

Moral Right

The moral right is perpetual, inalienable and imprescriptible, and therefore may not be transferred, may not be renounced by the author and exists and must be respected even after the work has entered the public domain. Upon the death of the author, the moral right passes to his heirs.

The moral right includes the following four rights:

  • right to present: the author has the right to choose to present his work to the public and to choose the modes by which it is presented
  • right to the "paternity" of the work: the author has the right to have his name indicated on any reproduction or representation of his work, but also, if he wishes, the right to remain anonymous
  • right to the integrity of the work; the author has the right to oppose any distortion, mutilation or other modification of his work (this right is applied in a restrictive manner with respect to software, as the creator of software can not oppose any modification of his work unless he is able to prove that such modification would be detrimental to his honor or reputation)
  • right of withdrawal: the author has the right to withdraw his work from the market after its publication. This right is subject to the indemnification of any transferee of the intellectual property rights of such work for any harm suffered as a result of the withdrawal of the work.

Any violation of the moral right of the author constitutes an act of infringement.

Exceptions to the Exclusive Rights Granted Under Copyright Law

There are certain exceptions to the exclusive rights granted to the owner of the intellectual property rights of a work. The following uses are permissible without the authorization of the owner of the rights:

  • private and not for profit representations limited to the family circle (very limited)
  • copies or reproductions exclusively for the private use of the copyist
    Therefore, copies on CD-ROM or videocassettes of films and the diffusion of these films at home for family members is authorized. The diffusion of the same film, however, in a class or conference requires the authorization of the copyright holder, as this diffusion is outside the scope of the family circle.

Under French law, there is no exception to copyright protection for the use of a work for pedagogical purposes; the reproduction of a work to be distributed to students in an educational setting must be authorized by the owner of the rights of the reproduced work.

The following uses, provided that the name of the author and the source of the work (original title) are clearly indicated, are also permitted:

  • analyses;
  • short citations of the work;
  • press reviews; and
  • diffusion of a public speech as news.

The exception for short citations is very strictly interpreted, the citation must be short, incorporated in another work and justified by the nature of the work in which it is incorporated.

Parodies, imitations and caricatures are also authorized, so long as they are both created for humorous purposes and there is no risk of confusion between the original work and the parody.

Transfer of Intellectual Property Rights

Publication, representation and audiovisual production contracts must, in order to be valid, be in writing. All other contracts for the transfer of copyrights, if the value is more than a given limit, must also be in writing, with the exception of contracts between merchants regardless of the value of the contract.

Contracts must expressly provide for the rights to be transferred and, in particular, each type of communication to the public and each type of reproduction to be transferred.

Do ornamental designs of useful articles and industrial designs benefit from protection under copyright law or is it necessary to obtain a design registration?

Pursuant to French law, ornamental designs of useful articles and industrial designs benefit both from copyright protection (no registration required) and protection provided by the law governing designs (which require registration with the French Patent and Trademark Office). As a result of this cumulative protection, the author or holder of the rights to a design may claim either copyright protection and/or the protection accorded to registered designs.

Therefore, as a result of this cumulative protection, creations of forms, regardless of their type, shape, expression, merit or destination, benefit both from copyright protection and/or protection under the laws governing designs. Industrial works of applied art include in particular all types of intellectual creations that have a utilitarian or commercial purpose such as designs of vases, shoes, clothing, lamps, jewelry, tables, bottles, computers, hi-fi products, household objects (vacuum cleaners, food processors) or any other original object, provided that its form is not exclusively dictated by its function.

Copyright law and the law governing designs protect the expression of the work and not its functional characteristics, which might be eligible for protection under patent law. Thus, the general shape of a corkscrew is protected under copyright law and/or by the law governing designs, while the metal screw that pierces the cork is not protected, as a result of its exclusively technical character.

It should be noted that although the author or holder of the intellectual property rights to a work of ornamental designs of useful article normally benefits from copyright protection in France, this protection is not afforded to foreigners who do not reside in France or in the European Union or who did not publish their work for the first time in France, unless there exists reciprocity between France and the country of origin of the author of the work such that the laws of this country also grant copyright protection for such types of work.