What is Copyright? It's a legal term used to indicate the rights an Author (or Artist, according to our philosophy) holds over their artistic or literary works.

The legislation does not have a full list of the types of copyright-protected works. However, in general terms, the protected works are:

  • literary works such as novels, poems, reference works, newspaper articles
  • computer software, data banks (database)
  • films, musical compositions and coreographies
  • artistic works such as paintings, drawings, photos, sculptures
  • architecture
  • advertising, maps, technical design.

The protection offered by copyright is only applied to expression, not ideas, execution methods, or mathematical concepts. For example, a drawing can be protected by copyright because it expresses the idea an artist has, but the method they used to create it (such as the way they hold the pen, or use the colours) can not.

Copyright may not be applicable to items such as titles, mottos, or logos. This is something that is determined by the amount of "artistic content" instilled into the object. Mottos are an example, as the artistic content instilled in a few words is often not enough to apply copyright (unless the motto is as long as a light novel), whereas a logo with an illustration may be protected by copyright due to the artistic content within the illustration.

This type of items is usually commercially safeguarded through other means of protection, such as the "Trade Mark" (typically used in the USA, with the TM symbol next to the name, indicating that the item is a registered trademark), or through "patents".

There are two types of rights an Artist holds over their works: economic, giving the author the right to earn money when other people use their work, and moral, protecting the Author's interests from a non-economic point of view.

Among the economic rights, Artists have the possibility to allow or prohibit different uses of their Works, such as:

  • reproduction in various forms, for instance on print or record
  • public screening or performance (such as concerts or theatrical performances)
  • recording on a CD or DVD
  • playing via radio, television, etc.
  • translation into other languages (for literary works)
  • adaptations into novels or films.

Within their moral rights, Authors have the right of attribution, meaning that they can claim paternity of a Work, and the right to integrity, which allows the Artist to object to any alteration of their work, if these alterations should compromise their reputation.

How can copyright be registered? In most countries, copyright protection is automatic, without requiring registration or any other procedure to be fulfilled (although there are certain requirements in order to prove it), in accordance with the Berne Convention.

Although there are no requirements for registration of one's copyright, most countries which ratified the Convention have set up systems allowing a "voluntary Artwork registration" for the Authors. These registrations are useful for solving disputes concerning property or creation, and make it easier to manage economic rights, which is the fair distribution of the profit a work generates. This last concept is the one most commonly attributed to the definition of "author's rights": an economic revenue for "each copy of the Artwork".

The modern concept of copyright dates back to 1869, when a treaty called Berne Convention was written. The original idea on which this agreement was based is commonly attributed to Victor Hugo, who believed all civilised nations should safeguard their authors in the same way (source: wikipedia). Before the Convention was written, any Author creating an Artwork of any kind had to register their work in every country where they wanted to distribute or exhibit it (considering the means available at the time, they would have been pushing up daisies long before being able to).

Originally, the Convention stated that the Author only needed to complete the registration process in the country where the artwork originated, and it would immediately be valid in all other countries of the Convention. The requirement of registration was removed in the Berlin revision in 1908, stating that "[...] the enjoyment and the exercise of these rights shall not be subject to the performance of any formality [...]".

With the birth of digital communication technologies, the scenario changed drasticallly. Applying author's rights is extremely complicated, due to an uncontrollable amount of reproductions. There are several initiatives looking for effective solutions to this issue (which impossible to apply on a global scale, in my opinion - author's note).

That's why in 1996 it was decided to adopt the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) treaty, to manage the issues that had emerged due to the new information technology and due to the Internet, which has only become the one we know today in 1994, with the birth of what will be called "World Wide Web", although it originates from a 1969 project of the American DARPA institution... but that's a story for another day (author's note).

Currently, the WIPO regulates the Berne Convention and everything concerning copyright and Intellectual Property.

It is interesting to note a couple of relevant events occurred throughout the Berne Convention history, such as the UK, which ratified it in 1887, but only enforced it a century later, in 1998, after the approval of the “Copyright, Design and Patents Act”.

Or the fact that the United States of America only ratified the Convention in 1988 and made it come into force the following year: at first, they refused to be part of the Convention, as it would have required massive changes in their copyright law, particularly about moral rights, and removal of the copyright registration requirement and compulsory notice.

In 2001, the Center for the Study of the Public Domain founded the organisation known as Creative Commons; in 2002, they released the first free Copyright licences. The licences are inspired by those already in use within the Open Source movement, created by the Free Software Foundation, and by the GNU General Public License (GPL) which is already applied on the Linux Operating System.

These licences regulate usage of Artworks in specific situations, or their devotion to Public Domain. In the following years, the work of Creative Commons has grown exponentially, taking its licences to over 50 jurisdictions (currently 91, with 174 members of the Berne Convention - source).


The Copyright world is in turmoil, and it focuses on three main subjects that capture the attention of everyone involved in the field: books, music, films. The concept on which our Initiative was founded, is that the illustration field (and that of photography, as well) does not enjoy enough attention. In 2016, over 1.2 billion Artworks were registered under Creative Commons licences. Flickr, for instance, reported 381 million CC-licenced Works.

The big issue caused by most "social" platforms we had the opportunity to look at, is that they all live off of advertising, don't have an Artist validation process, and don't know who they are. It doesn't matter, as long as the number of subscribers grows.

About the Author

Sebastian Zdrojewski

Sebastian Zdrojewski

Founder, (He/Him)

Worked for 25 years in the IT industry facing cyber security, privacy and data protection problems for businesses. In 2017 founds Rights Chain, a project aiming to provide resources and tools for copyright and intellectual property protection for Content Creators, Artists and Businesses.