Skip to main content

Legal Rights of Copyright Owners

What rights do copyright owners have? One of the key steps in understanding copyright is reading up on the legal rules that protect their work – as well as a few exceptions.

Economic rights

Copyright gives creators the right to prevent others from exploiting their work in various ways. The forms of restricted exploitation include:

  • copying the work
  • making the work available to the public
  • distributing the work
  • renting or lending it (excluding public lending)
  • translating, arranging or adapting the work

It is these restrictions which enable the creator to charge a fee, or royalty for the reproduction of their work.

Moral rights

  • Moral rights were previously unknown under Irish law, but are a common feature in other European systems. They have been introduced in Ireland as a result of European Directives aimed at harmonising copyright law throughout the European Union in the Copyright & Related Rights Act, 2000.
  • The moral rights of interest to authors are: the paternity right (the right to be identified as the author of the work); the integrity right (the right to prevent mutilation, distortion or other derogatory alteration of the work) and the right of false attribution (the right not to have a work falsely attributed to you).
  • Moral rights may be waived, but a waiver must be in writing.

Exceptions to copyright

An author cannot prevent the copying, or other use of his or her work, if that use is covered by one of the exceptions to copyright. The principal copyright exceptions of relevance to authors are:

1. Insubstantial copying

In order to infringe the author’s copyright, a ‘substantial’ part of the work must have been copied. Insubstantial copying is therefore permitted. Because it is impossible to say with certainty what is meant by ‘substantial’ in any given situation, users are often reluctant to rely on this exemption. Equally, however, authors litigate at some risk.

2. Fair dealing

A work may be used by anyone for the purposes of research or private study without the permission of the author, provided the use is conducted in a way which does not prejudice the rights of the copyright owner. The work may also be used for criticism, or review or for reporting current events, with the same proviso, and provided further that the use of the work is accompanied by an acknowledgement identifying the author and the title of the work.

This bundle of exceptions is known as ‘fair dealing'. Fair dealing only applies to work which has, with the authorisation of the copyright holder, been made available to the public.

The law does not give specific guidelines as to what constitutes fair dealing, but you should take into consideration:

  • the length and importance of quotations;
  • the amount quoted in relation to your commentary;
  • the extent to which your work competes with or rivals the work quoted;
  • the extent to which the material quoted is saving you work.

Although the legislation does not state the fact, it is unlikely that the making of multiple copies of a work will ever qualify as fair dealing.

3. Some educational uses

The use of authors' works for certain educational purposes is permitted. These include the use of the work in examinations, and the inclusion of a short passage from the work in an anthology for schools.

4. Illustration for teaching

Irish copyright law includes an exception for ‘illustration for teaching’. What this means specifically has been subject to debate, but it is generally agreed that a small extract of text that is limited to what is needed to illustrate a particular teaching point can be used by someone providing education. However, they must acknowledge the source, they should not interfere with the author’s moral rights and they must not compromise the rightsholders’ ability to exploit their work financially.