What is protected by copyright?

According to § 2 (1) UrhG, copyright protects works in the literary, scientific and artistic domain. Those include in particular:

1. Literary works, such as written works of all kind, and speeches;
2. Computer programs;
2. Musical works;
3. Pantomimic works, including works of dance;
4. Artistic works, including works of architecture and of applied art;
5. Photographies;
6. Films;
7. Illustrations of a scientific or technical nature, such as drawings, plans, maps, sketches, tables and three-dimensional representations.

This list is not exhaustive and contains only examples of works that may be protected. For something to receive copyright protection, it must satisfy an originality standard. That standard varies by jurisdiction, and in Germany that originality standard ("Gestaltungshöhe") is met by works that are "the author’s own intellectual creation" ("persönliche geistige Schöpfung", § 2 Abs. 2 UrhG); It is a de-minimis rule that prevents every day intellectual achievements with minimal individual creative effort from copyright protection.

What is not protected by copyright?

Copyright does not extend to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such (art. 2 of the WIPO Treaty). Similarily, it does not extend to "pure facts" and software functionalities. All those elements exist objectively, and are not the result of someone's "own intellectual creation".

§5 UrhG excludes also official texts (amtliche Werke) from the scope of copyright protection. These are defined as: acts, ordinances, official decrees and official notices, as well as decisions and official head notes of decisions, as well as texts published by official bodies for general information purposes. In this case, the right of the public to be informed prevails over the protection of authors' creation.


It is important to notice that fixation of a work in general is not required under EU law. Musical improvisations or spontaneous speech, for instance, may also be copyright protected. In contrast, Anglo-Saxon legal systems require works to be "fixed in a tangible medium" (i.e. recorded, printed, etc.) in order to enjoy copyright protection.

Fragments of works

Copyright extends not just to works as a whole, but to its parts. One chapter, one paragraph, or even one sentence may be copyright protected, as long as it passes the originality requirement. There are no quantitative limits, like a number of words; however, the smaller the excerpt, the less likely it is that it passes the originality requirement.

Derivative works

Translations and adaptations can be copyright protected, as long as they meet the originality requirement (§3 UrhG). However, if a work is protected by copyright, it is not allowed to make its adaptations or translations without the authorisation of its rightholders.

Collections and databases

Copyright may also protect collections (anthologies) and databases, even if they are composed of unoriginal elements or those who are already in the public domain. The originality of collections and databases resides in selection and arrangement of their constitutive elements.

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