Ownership and transfer

Eligible owners

Who is the owner of a copyrighted work?

The owner of a copyrighted work is its author, in other words, the person who created the work. However, the economic rights may be transferred either through inheritance or by a contract, in which cases the beneficiary or the assignee becomes the owner of the copyright.

Under a French legal presumption, the name of the person under which the work was published is deemed to be its author.

Employee and contractor work

May an employer own a copyrighted work made by an employee?

Under French law, without regard to the employment contract that may be in force between an employer and his or her employee, the employee remains the author of his or her work and therefore the owner of the copyright.

The exception to this rule is the collective work. A ‘collective work’ is defined by Article L 113-2 subsection 3 of the IPC as:

[A] work created at the initiative of a natural or legal person who edits it, publishes it and discloses it under its direction and name and in which the personal contributions of the various authors who participated in its production are merged in the overall work for which they were conceived, without it being possible to attribute to each author a separate right in the work as created.

Therefore, the name under which the collective work is published being that of the employer, the employer becomes the owner of the copyright, even though he or she is not the author of the work. The employees will be vested of the moral rights that ensue from the individual part of their creations.

May a hiring party own a copyrighted work made by an independent contractor?

Under French law, without regard to the employment contract that may be in force between an employer and an independent contractor, the creator of a work remains the author and therefore the owner of the copyright, without having to comply with any further formality.

Joint and collective ownership

May a copyrighted work be co-owned?

A work may be co-owned whenever it results from the collaboration between two persons.

Article L 113-2 subsection 1 of the IPC defines works of collaboration as works ‘in the creation of which more than one natural person has participated’. In this case, the copyright is co-owned by several natural persons.

Article L 113-3 of the IPC provides that a work of collaboration shall be the joint property of its authors. The authors shall exercise their rights by common accord.

Transfer of rights

May rights be transferred?

Moral rights are inalienable and may not be transferred.

However, the economic rights of a copyright are transferable either through inheritance or contract.

Licensing

May rights be licensed?

The economic rights of copyright may be licensed under French law. Under French contract law, licence may not be concluded for a perpetual term and licences with an indefinite duration have been cancelled by French courts.

Whenever the contract is not clear, it will be interpreted in favour of the author by French courts.

Are there compulsory licences? What are they?

The IPC provides for compulsory licences where a phonogram has been published for commercial purposes. Neither the performer nor the producer may oppose its broadcasting or the simultaneous and integral cable distribution of such broadcast, as well as the reproduction of such phonogram strictly reserved for those purposes, carried out for or on behalf of an audiovisual communication enterprise with a view to inclusion in the soundtrack of its own programme broadcast on its own channel or on any channels of audiovisual communication enterprises which pay equitable remuneration (Article L 214-1 of the IPC).

Law No. 2016-925 of 7 July 2016 has extended said regime of compulsory licence to internet radio services.

In compensation, the same provision confers performers and producers rights to remuneration.

Are licences administered by performing rights societies? How?

Performers are free to join any performing rights societies but are under no obligation to. In France, various societies exist, such as:

  • SACEM, for musical works;
  • SACD, for drama and audiovisual works; and
  • SCAM, for multimedia works.
Termination

Is there any provision for the termination of transfers of rights?

Under French law, perpetual agreements are prohibited. Therefore, copyright transfer can only be temporary. The transfer agreement has to specify precisely whether the transfer is valid for the whole legal duration of the protection of the copyrighted work or a shorter period.

Recordal

Can documents evidencing transfers and other transactions be recorded with a government agency?

There is no agency specific to copyright formalities in France.