Under  French  law

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 authorship”, whatever their genre, form of expression, merit or purpose (article L 112-1 of the French Code of Intellectual Property).  This code lists the works eligible for such protection including, but not limited to, literary and artistic books and other pamphlets, dramas and musical dramas, mime, circus numbers and feats, films and other audiovisual works, photographic works, etc. (article L112-2 of CPI).  This list is purposely not comprehensive so that all new creations meeting the author’s rights criteria may benefit from the relevant protection.

1st criterion: originality of the work
To be protected by author’s 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 quite 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 copyrights protection, such as in the case of a play drawing on a theme already exploited in the past.

2nd criterion: formalisation or shaping
Ideas belong to “an open field” and therefore cannot be protected by author’s rights as such.  By nature, there can be no individual appropriation of thought.  For an idea to be eligible for legal protection through author’s rights, it must have been materialised or “shaped”.  As (author’s rights) protection primarily applies to intellectual and artistic expression, there needs to be a certain extent of formalisation 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, its author is advised to make a written or audiovisual record of it for reference.

How to protect works?
First of all it should be clear that author’s right protection is granted to the author on the sole premise of the work’s creation.  Such protection is in no way whatsoever 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 SACD’s Authors-Users Centre (Pôle Auteurs-Utilisateurs), but be aware that deposit itself cannot be regarded as registration of the work with SACD for the latter to manage the relevant rights.

The author’s rights holder

Unless otherwise proven, a work’s authorship is assigned to the author under whose name it has been divulged (art L 113-1 CPI). The holder of the rights is therefore the author.  As authors are not always 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 then severally belongs to all joint-authors who will jointly exercise their authors’ rights as it is governed by undivided co-ownership (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 to which a pre-existing work is integrated without the author of the latter taking part in the former.  It is then 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 will all fall in 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.