Under French law

In France, authors’ works enjoy sophisticated legal protection.

The SACD plays a key role in shaping the legislation that protects authors’ rights and is extensively involved in both the domestic and international level in all the debates liable to improve the protection of authors and their rights. To this end, the SACD liaise continually with the relevant political bodies and national and international legal and administrative authorities. These relentless efforts are deployed for the benefit of authors and for the protection of their works and rights. Our ultimate goal is quite simple: to defend creation and cultural diversity, by all means and under all circumstances.

Authors and their work: Definition

Protecting creation and cultural diversity

In France, authors’ works enjoy sophisticated legal protection, to an extent which up to fairly recently had no equivalent elsewhere in the world.

The work

“Work of authorship”

The Code of Intellectual Property (CPI, in France) protects the rights of authors on “all works of the mind” whatever their kind, form of expression, merit or purpose (art. L 112-1 CPI). This code lists the works eligible for such protection including, but not limited to books, pamphlets, dramatic or dramatico-musical works, etc. (art. L112-2 CPI). This list is intentionally non-comprehensive so that all new creations liable to be considered works of mind criteria may benefit from the relevant protection.

1st criterion: Originality of the work

To be protected under authors’ rights, a work should first and foremost be “original,” in that it should reflect the personality of its author. This compelling criterion of originality is particularly subjective which makes it rather difficult for judges to assess it in the event of a dispute. Originality, however, should not be confused with “novelty.” For instance, a creation based on a previous idea may still claim to be original and thus be eligible for protection, such as in the case of a play drawing on a theme already used in the past.

2nd criterion: Formalization or shaping

Since ideas belong to an “open field”, they cannot be protected by authors’ rights, as such. By nature, there can be no individual appropriation of thought. For an idea to be eligible for legal protection under authors’ rights, it must have been materialized or “shaped.” As (authors’ rights) protection primarily applies to intellectual and artistic expression, there needs to be a certain extent of formalization to make such ideas tangible and materially perceptible.

Thus, a synopsis may be protected from the moment it sufficiently develops and shapes an idea.

In the case of an ephemeral work, such as stage directing, the author is advised to make a written or audiovisual record of it for reference.

How can works be protected?

First of all, it should be clear that the protection of authors’ rights is granted to the author on the sole premise of the work’s creation. Such protection is in no way subordinated to the completion of specific deposit formalities. As such, deposit of a work does not generate rights on the work, but only allows the author to provide some prima facie evidence as to the existence of the work, its content, “paternity” and, more importantly, its date of creation.

Deposit can be made with the SACD’s Authors-Users Department (Pôle Auteurs-Utilisateurs), but be aware that deposit itself cannot be considered as registration of the work with the SACD for the latter to manage the relevant rights.

The authors’ rights holder

Unless otherwise proven, a work’s authorship is granted to the author under whose name it has been disclosed (art. L 113-1 CPI). The holder of the rights is therefore the author. As authors are not always the sole authors of a work, the legislation has provided for various cases of joint authorship for creation projects.

Work of collaboration

If several natural persons have contributed to a creation, it belongs to all joint authors who will jointly exercise their rights by commun accord (art. L 113-3 CPI). They will share whatever profit is generated through the resulting work. For instance, audiovisual works are works of collaboration.

Composite works

The notion of composite work applies in the case of a new work in which a pre-existing work is integrated without the author of the latter taking part in the former. It is therefore the property of its author, provided the latter has paid royalties on the pre-existing work (art. L 113-4 CPI). The same shall apply for works using excerpts of lyrics or music borrowed from another work, or, for instance, dramas or plays adapted from a novel, which all fall under the same category of composite works.

Collective work

A collective work is initiated by a natural or legal person who provides for its circulation and brings together the contributions of several authors to merge them into a single work. Thus, as the individual contributions cannot be identified, the ownership of the work is exclusively attributed to the natural or legal person under whose name it has been disclosed (art. l13-5 CPI). This may be the case for dictionaries, for instance.