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Freelancers working in the writing or artistic field mostly produce personal intellectual creations. They are protected by copyright.

Copyright protects in particular specific intellectual creations in cultural fields (e.g. literary works, musical works, illustrations of a scientific or technical nature), as well as certain related services such as for example the production of sound carriers, databases or films, which themselves do not constitute a creation.

An idea is however only protected once it has really been realized (e.g. written down). The thought alone is not protected. In addition, the idea has to have a certain level of creative content, i.e. reach a certain degree of individuality, to be protected by copyright.

In Germany, protection for an intellectually work generally starts with the act of creation. To safeguard your authorship, you do not have to be entered in any register.

In particular, the German Copyright Act (UrhG) has key provisions on copyright. In accordance with the Germany Copyright Act, the author of a work has the following rights amongst others:

  • Publishing rights
    The author can specify if and how the work should be published.
  • Right of reproduction
    The author can make copies of the work.
  • Distribution rights
    The author can offer the original or copies of the work to the public or put it on the market.
  • Right of recitation
    The author can recite his/her literary work in public.
  • Performing rights
    The author can recite his/her musical work in public or publicly perform his/her work on stage.
  • Demonstration rights
    The author can make the public aware of his/her works of the performing arts, his/her films or illustrations of a scientific or technical nature by means of technical equipment.

If you, as the author, grant another person the right to use your work, you are entitled to an adequate payment.

If another person violates your copyright, you can demand that he/she refrains from carrying out this wrongful act. Under certain circumstances, you are also entitled to claim compensation from the person.

As an author, you cannot always check where and how your work is published or copied. This is the reason why copyrights are exercised on a trust basis by so-called collecting societies. The collecting societies, such as e.g. GEMA for composers and lyricists or GVL for musicians and performers in radio, television and film, are linked to the owners of the copyrights mostly by means of so-called user or licence agreements. The collecting societies issue the licences and collect charges from the users of the works. The fees collected are then paid to the author on a specified allocation basis.

Tip: The Deutsche Patent- und Markenamt will provide you with further information on the subject as well as a list of all collecting societies on its website. The brochure "Protection of intellectual Property (Copyright)" (Broschüre "Schutz des geistigen Eigentums (Urheberrecht)") of the Institut für Freie Berufe Nürnberg (Institute for liberal Professions) has further important information for you. The Institut für Urheber- und Medienrecht (Institute for Copyright and Media Law) will provide information on the latest legislative developments regarding copyright matters.

Note: If your invention is in the technical field, industrial property rights (e.g. patents) could ensure that other persons do not adopt your idea as their own and realize it before you have done so. More detailed information can be found in the aspects of daily life "Patents, Brands, Transfer of Ideas" (Patente, Marken, Ideentransfer).

Release note

The German original version of this text was drafted in close cooperation with the relevant departments. The Justizministerium released it on 20.10.2023. Only the German text is legally binding. The Federal State does not assume any liability for the translated texts. In cases of doubt or if you have any questions or problems, please contact the relevant authorities directly.