Author's rights and intellectual property

frequently asked questions



What is intellectual property

Intellectual property is the right to ownership of anything created by the human mind. It protects the rights of the authors of any scientific, literary or artistic work.

On an international level, the concept of intellectual property covers not only the copyright associated with artistic, literary and scientific works, but also industrial property rights associated with inventions, industrial models, patents and brands.

On a state level, Intellectual Property refers to the copyright of the author alone. Industrial Property is governed by another specific regulation. In our environment, the terms “intellectual property” and “copyright” are therefore used interchangeably.

Who owns the intellectual property of a work?

The intellectual property of a piece of work belongs to its author, since it was he or she that created it. This means that works are automatically protected and therefore formal registration is not necessary in order to recognise and respect the authorship of these works.

What are the intellectual property regulations?

On a state level, there is a Law of Intellectual Property which outlines and protects Copyright (or author’s right) in Spain (Law 21/2014 of 4 November, which amends the consolidated text of the Intellectual Property Law, passed by Royal Legislative Decree 1/1996 of 12 April and 1/2000 of 7 January of the Civil Procedure)

Access Ley Propiedad Intelectual

How does Copyright (or author’s right) protect intellectual property?

Author’s right protects a wide variety of works:

  • Original scientific, literary and artistic works, books, musical compositions, sculptures, paintings, photographs, computer programmes
  • Works deriving from the above, such as translations, adaptations, summaries and so on
  • Collections: anthologies, databases

You should be aware that any materials that you create, such as presentations, reports, projects, videos, blogs, theses and so on are protected by author copyright, regardless of their format (paper, audiovisual, plastic, online etc.).

What are author’s rights?

All authors, by definition, have their works protected by a series of rights which give them the complete and exclusive capacity to exploit these same works. These rights are known as 'copyright’. There are two different types of copyright: moral rights and economic rights.

  • Moral rights are personal, indisputable and inalienable. Some of these rights exist in perpetuity: for example, the right of the author to be acknowledged and the right to the integrity of works continue forever.

Recognition of the authorship and integrity of works are the most important moral rights, together with the right to share this work.

  • Economic rights and rights of exploitation do have time limits. Their duration depends on the legislation in each country: in Spain, they last for the lifespan of the author and following the death of the same they belong to the inheritors for a further 70 years.

Economic rights and rights of exploitation are transferable rights, which means that they can be sold, ceded or shared with third parties, whether this is for economic purposes or not. This means that the ownership of rights of exploitation does not always belong to the author, since the latter may have ceded or sold these to a third party or organisation, such as an editor or compiler.

How does legislation protect the author’s rights?

Current legislation protects the moral and economic author’s rights with regard to their work and regulates their conditions of use by the public. This means that in order to use a work with author copyright in force you must have the explicit permission of the author or the owner of the rights. In many cases, use of a work will require financial compensation or payment for its use, reproduction, distribution, public communication or modification.

To defend the public interest, and to promote the transfer of knowledge and educational activity, the current intellectual property law establishes certain limits to the rights of the author. This means that the law establishes certain cases in which it is not necessary to seek the explicit permission of the author or in which financial compensation for the use of a work is not required in certain situations. These situations are known as “limits” or “exceptions” to the author’s sole right to exploit their work.

Which are the exceptions or limits to the author’s rights?

The first type of limit is based on time: a work becomes part of the public domain in Spain after 70 years have passed since the death of the author.

Once a work becomes part of the public domain it can be used without requiring permission from the owner of the rights and no financial compensation will be required. The moral rights of the authorship and integrity of a work to be acknowledged remain in place and must be respected.

There are certain limits or exceptions to author copyright which relate to each one of the rights of exploitation applying to the use, reproduction, distribution or public communication of works without prior authorisation.

Some of the most important limits established by the law are:

  • Use of works for parody.
  • Current affairs and information about road works on public thoroughfares.
  • Official procedures and procedures for the benefit of people with a disability.
  • General interest organisations and cultural, scientific and educational organisations which are not for profit are permitted to use, reproduce, loan out and consult works freely, as long as this is not done with the purpose of making a profit and is carried out only for research purposes or to enable access to culture. For example, a school library or a public or university library does not require the permission of the author(s) or the owner(s) of the rights to a work to lend these works out to their users. However, depending on the type of library there may be financial compensation payable on loans made.
  • Private copy: this enables the reproduction of works that have already been released, without requiring prior authorisation, as long as these works have been accessed legally and are used for private, non-commercial purposes.

What is the public domain?

Within the state’s legal framework, and speaking in general terms, once 70 years have passed since the death of an author, his or her work becomes part of the public domain. This means that anyone can copy, distribute, adapt, interpret or display a work in public, for free, without requiring the express permission of the author’s inheritors. However, you are still required to acknowledge the authorship and integrity of the work.

Laws, court sentences and their official translations are also part of the public domain.

Be aware that there is no such thing as a global “public domain”. Each country establishes its own legislation, so it is therefore necessary to check the specific legislation of each country.

REBIUN infographs:

What does it mean to reproduce a work?

Reproducing a work means using that work (in any format) in such a way as to enable its communication and to make copies of the same. For example, editing, photocopying, digitalising, printing, saving a work on the hard disk of a computer or on an external memory, transferring a work from one format to another (from a CD to a DVD or from a DVD to another DVD) are all examples of reproduction.

In order to reproduce a work that is not a ‘private copy’ you must either have the permission of the author of the work or be covered by a limit or exception which has been established by the law for use in education.

What does it mean to distribute a work?

Distributing a work means making the original version, or the copy, of a work available to the public through its sale, hire, loan or any other means.

In order to distribute a work you must either have the permission of the author of the work or be covered by a limit or exception established by the law for use in education.

What does it mean to communicate a work publicly?

Communicating a work publicly means making it available to the public but without distributing copies, as happens in the case of conferences, lectures and so on. Projecting a film, playing a musical recording and representing a theatrical performance are also regarded as public communication within the premises of an education centre. It is also considered public communication when individuals use equipment from their educational centres to watch or listen to works on their own when these are subject to author copyright and form part of the collection of that educational centre.

In order to engage in public communication you must either have the permission of the author of the work or be covered by a limit or exception established by the law for use in education.

What does it mean to transform a work?

This refers to any modification that can be made to an original work that generates a new work deriving from the original. For example, adaptations and translations are both examples of transformation.

In order to transform a work you must either have the permission of the author of the work or be covered by a limit or exception established by the law for use in education.

What is copyright?

The copyright symbol © tells the public that a work is original and that its use, reproduction, transformation and publication are subject to author copyright regulations

What is copyleft?

Es un movimiento social y cultural que, frente al lema tradicional del Copyright de ‘todos los derechos reservados’, propone la opción de compartir y reutilizar las obras impulsando el uso de licencias libres, con las que el autor se puede reservar ‘algunos derechos’.

What are free licences?

These are licences which support a freer and more shared use of works and provide authors with the option of declining to exercise all of the rights of exploitation provided by intellectual copyright legislation. Authors may set their own limits, enabling them to have a greater level of control over the rights of their works and to manage these more easily. This gives users greater access to works and enables them to be used with fewer restrictions.

Among the free licences there are also some licences known as ‘Copyleft’ which are widely used in computer science. These guarantee the right of any individual to use, modify and redistribute a work as long as they share the derivative works that they create under the same, or a similar, licence.

In general terms, the most widely-used free licences for different types of works are the ‘Creative Commons’ licences.

What are Creative Commons licences?

Creative Commons licences enable authors to cede (under certain conditions) some of the rights to their work and to maintain some of the other rights.

Creative Commons is a non-government, not-for-profit organisation which provides authors and creators with free tools and licences which can be used to manage the rights to their work and to share their work and knowledge in a simple manner.

Creative Commons licences can be applied to any type of creative content, including educational resources, music, photographs, databases and public and government information.

Each Creative Commons licence sets out which rights have been ceded by the author, under which conditions, and what use can be made of their work, especially if they want to modify or republish this work. There is not one sole licence: depending on the inclination of the author there can be different combinations. In all of these combinations it is essential that you acknowledge the authorship of the work.

Basic conditions

EThese are the 4 basic conditions that can be combined in Creative Commons licences: Attribution, NonCommercial, NoDerivatives and ShareAlike

  • Atributtion (BY), the author allows others to copy, distribute and display their work (or other works deriving from the same) as long as the author's name is referenced.
  • Non Commercial (NC), the author limits exploitation of the work to non-commercial purposes, allowing others to copy, distribute and display their work (or other works deriving from the same) without commercial intentions.
  • No Derivatives (ND), allows the reuse of a work but does not allow that work to be modified or other works to be created as derivatives of the original. The author allows others to copy, distribute and display their work as it was created, without changes being made.
  • Share Alike (SA), permits the reuse and modification of the work but stipulates that derivative works created are published under the same licence. The author allows others to distribute works deriving from theirs as long as they do this under the same licence as that which covers the original work.

Types of Creative Commons licences

Combinado las condiciones se pueden generar 6 licencias Creative Commons diferentes:


 Attribution (by): This enables the work to be used in any way, including for commercial purposes, in addition to enabling the creation of derivative works which can be distributed without restrictions.


 Attribution – NonComercial (by-nc): enables derivative works to be generated as long as this is not for commercial purposes. Use of the original work for commercial purposes is not permitted either.


 Attribution – NonComercial – ShareAlike (by-nc-sa): This licence does not allow use of an original work for commercial purposes, nor that of derivative works. The distribution of derivative works must be made with the same licence as that which applies to the original work.


 Attribution – NoComercial – NoDerivatives (by-nc-nd): This licence does not allow use of an original work for commercial purposes, nor does it allow the creation of derivative works.


 Attribution – ShareAlike (by-sa): This enables a work and its potential derivative works to be used for commercial purposes, but these must be distributed using the same licence that applies to the original work.


 Attribution – NoDerivatives (by-nd): This allows a work to be used for commercial purposes but does not allow the creation of derivative works.

How to use Creative Commons licences

As when you use works protected by copyright, when you use works with a Creative Commons licence you must acknowledge the author of the work and list these works as bibliographical references, with the relevant information that is necessary for their identification.

A good practice is to provide the name of the author and link, if this exists; the title of the work and its link, if this exists; and the type of Creative Commons licence under which the work is published and its link, whenever you reference a work with a Creative Commons licence.

If the work, or a part of this, is a derivative work, such as an adaptation or a translation (among other examples), you must also make this clear.

Learn more about CC licences: Infografía REBIUN. Use of works with Creative Commons Licence

Audiovisual resources:


If you require advice or assistance, please contact your library.