Works and other protected matter

Copyright protects works, i.e., intellectual creations of literature and art which have a unique character. This includes literature, music, pictures, sculptures, films, operas, ballets and pantomimes. Computer programs are also protected under copyright.

The Copyright Act also regulates related rights (also referred to as neighbouring rights). They include: the rights of performing artists (musicians, actors) to their performances; the rights of producers of phonograms and videograms to their products (CD’s, DVD’s, etc.); the rights of broadcasters to their radio and television broadcasts.

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Unprotected works

Certain works must be freely available and are thus not protected by copyright. This includes, for example, legislative texts, court decisions, official and administrative protocols, patent documents and published patent applications.

The free flow of ideas also needs to be unhindered. Ideas are thus not protected; protection is limited to the form expressing an idea, such as the written text.

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Scope of protection

Copyright grants the rights holder the exclusive right to decide whether, when and how his/her works may be used, i.e., whether the work may be reproduced, translated, edited, distributed, sold, performed, broadcasted or transferred. The listing in the law is not comprehensive.

Related rights are comparable with the rights of the author, although they are somewhat limited. The listing of related rights in the law is comprehensive (Art. 33 , 36 and 37 of the Federal Act on Copyright and Related Rights (CopA)).

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Exceptions and limitations

The Copyright Act includes certain exceptions and limitations in favor of users and consumers. For instance, published works may be used for private use (i.e., private persons or closely connected persons such as relatives or friends). This exception, however, does not apply for computer programs: Permission from the rights holder must be obtained for each use.

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The person who created a work owns the copyright for that work. This is true even when the work has been created by an employee as part of his employment and in fulfillment of his contractual obligations. If the employer wants to exercise the rights, he must have them assigned by the employee. This can even take place tacitly or by implied agreement. However, there is an exception to this regulation: If the employee has developed a computer program, the employer is by law entitled to exercise the exclusive rights to the program. Specific regulations are also included in the publishing contract (Art. 381, para. 1 and 393, para. 2 CO). Variant agreements are possible under the law.

If several persons have been involved in the creation of a work, they have joint ownership of the copyright.

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No filing necessary

A work is protected under copyright as soon as it is created. It is not necessary to file for protection or to “deposit” the work as there is no register.

It is also not necessary to refer to the copyright in the work. Notations such as “copyright“, “all rights reserved“ or “©” have no influence on protection in Switzerland. However, such notations can be useful information for third parties and serve as a sort of warning. Furthermore, in other countries, the notification ©[name of rights owner] [year of first publication] can be important for copyright protection.

Note that the ISBN number located on books has nothing to do with copyright: it’s simply the international identification number of the edition.

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Term of protection

In Switzerland copyright protection expires 70 years after the death of the author with the exception of computer programs, the protection of which ends 50 years after the death of the author.

Related rights protection expires 50 years after the performer’s performance, the publication of the phonogram or videogram (or the production of it, in the case that it is not published) or the emission of the broadcast. The rights of a performing artist to be named as performer ends upon his or her death, or 50 years after the performance, at the earliest.

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Protection abroad

Every legal system is principally national; in other words, under Swiss law, works and other protected matter are only protected in Switzerland. However, international treaties have been concluded to guarantee protection at an international level. They grant Swiss authors the same level of protection as authors residing in that country as long as that country and Switzerland are signatories to the same treaty. The majority of industrialized countries have signed the most important copyright (Berne Convention  External Link) and related rights (Rome Convention  External Link) treaties.

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Last modified:13.02.2017 08:15


Brochure «Copyright and neighbouring rights» German (pdf 2 MB), French (pdf 2.2 MB) and Italian (pdf 2.2 MB)