The Essential Guide to Belgian Copyright Law
Economic rights and moral rights
The Belgian Copyright Act makes a basic distinction between moral rights and economic rights. Moral rights are an author's right to disclose his or her work ("divulgation right"), the right to claim or refuse authorship of the work ("paternity right"), and the right to respect for the work, which permits the author to oppose alterations of the work ("integrity right").
Economic rights are the exclusive rights of an author to exploit his or her work. This entails that any form of exploitation of the work is subject to the prior permission of the author. Economic rights consist of the author's right to reproduce his or her work (comprising also the right to authorize adaptations to or translations of the work, to authorize rental or lending of the work and the right to prohibit certain uses of a work) and to communicate the work to the public. In contrast to the moral rights (which are inalienable), the economic rights are moveable, assignable and transferable to third parties.
Copyright on the Internet
As a general rule, copyright applies to the Internet, in the same way as it applies to works in a more physical format.
Basic requirements of copyright law in Belgium
In order to qualify for protection under Belgian copyright law, a work must meet two basic requirements:
Expression in a concrete form
The work must have a concrete form. Copyright law does not protect mere ideas, concepts or business methods. To qualify for copyright protection, the idea, concept or method should be expressed in a particular form. Texts, music, pictures or video images on websites, blogs or social media pages (or on paper) generally meet this requirement.
The originality requirement of Belgian copyright law
The work must be an original creation. Note that the legal concept of “originality” is very different from what is considered 'original' in everyday language. In legal terms, it is not necessary that the work be the product of extraordinary artistic or technical skills. Copyright law in Belgium (and the European Union) requires that the work reflects "the personality of the author” or constitutes an “own intellectual creation of the author”. This means that the author should have made minimal creative choices and that his or her creation should not be the product of mere technical rules or requirements. In practice, the originality threshold of Belgian copyright law is very easily achieved. In other words, works are often considered “original” and thus protected by copyright, even if there was only little originality involved in creating the work.
Duration of copyright protection in Belgium
In theory, copyright law in Belgium provides protection for up to 70 years after the death of the author. In case of multiple authors, the protection period is 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. For obvious reasons, this is more important for some works or sectors than for others. Seventy years after the death of the author, the work will become part of the “public domain”. Contrary to what some people may think, ”public domain” does not mean “everything that is publicly available” (for instance online). The expression “public domain” is simply used to indicate that a work is not (or no longer) subject to copyright protection.
Who is considered an "author" under Belgian copyright law?
The “author” is generally the physical person who creates the work. He or she will be recognized as the first holder of the copyright, but may assign his or her rights to a third party (such as a publisher, producer, customer, employer, collective management company or the owner of a website or online network). In practice, the copyrights of most works that have an economic value are owned by a party that is not the original author of the work (because the author traded away his rights). In Belgium, this assignment of copyrights must meet certain legal criteria. For example, the assignment or copyrights must be recorded in a written contract that must be sufficiently clear - this may be an employment contract. As already said, an author may not relinquish his or her moral rights (this rule is meant to protect authors from stronger market players). If there are multiple authors of a single work, they all get copyright entitlements in the collective work (this may be a website, an advertisement campaign, a movie, etc.). This rule applies only to sufficiently creative authors who truly contributed to the work (not to mere technical contributions).
No formalities for copyright protection
Copyright protection arises automatically out of the simple fact of creating an original work. The work should not fulfill any formalities to qualify for protection under Belgian copyright law. Also, the work should not have a particular length or aesthetic / stylistic value. However, the smaller a work is, the more difficult it often is to achieve the originality threshold.
The use of copyright symbols (such as ©)
In Belgium, it is not necessary to add a copyright symbol (such as the © symbol) to your work to enjoy copyright protection. Still, it is often advisable to add such symbol (for example via a digital watermark). Given the fact that it is extremely easy to copy and distribute copyrighted material on the Internet, it may be a good idea to add a © symbol or a copyright message to your text, images, music or videos on the Internet, along with your name and the date of creation of the work. This is also true for use on social media. The use of a © symbol will make it clear to other users that your work is protected by copyright and that you will not appreciate abuse of your work. In legal terms, mentioning your name on your work creates a legal presumption that you are the author of the work (note that this is not only valid for Belgium: this is a general rule contained in article 15.1 of the Berne Convention). This is good practice, because it is often difficult to identify the true author of a work on the Internet. In fact, these rules also apply in most other countries. In the United States you will often find the © symbol followed by the year of first publication of the work and the name of the copyright owner. Even in the U.S., the use of this sign is no longer legally required (but note that, in the US, contrary to Belgium, registration of copyright is a prerequisite to any suit for infringement; so, if you anticipate that you will have to challenge someone who is infringing your work or defend yourself against a suit for copyright infringement, you will have to formally register your work with the US Copyright Office).
Do not hesitate to contact me for any question regarding the above. If you need a Belgian copyright lawyer or attorney, I will be happy to help you.
Author: Bart Van Besien
Attorney - Lawyer - Belgium - European Union (E.U.)
Specialized in intellectual property law (copyright, trademarks, patents, domain names, etc.) and media law.
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