General Information

Dutch copyright law is part of the Dutch Copyright Act.

In the Netherlands, copyright automatically applies to researchers who write a research report or publish an article, PhD candidates who write a dissertation, students who write a thesis or a paper or give a presentation, and teachers who reuse copyright protected materials in Brightspace.

What is copyright and what is protected?

According to Article 1 of the Dutch Copyright Act: “Copyright is the exclusive right of the author of a literary, scientific or artistic work or his successors in title to disclose the work to the public and to reproduce it, subject to the exceptions laid down by law”.  

In other words, copyright gives the author the right to express, publish, display, distribute and copy his or her own work. These rights are called ‘exploitation rights’ (see question below: What can I do with my copyright?). The author also has moral rights (see question below: What are moral rights?).

Copyright applies to ‘works’. To be protected by copyright, a work needs to be original. That is, the work is the author’s own intellectual creation. Furthermore, the work needs to be expressed. An idea that you have not yet expressed is not protected by copyright. Article 10 of the Dutch Copyright Act gives several examples of a work. In general, everything that has a creative aspect in it can be considered copyright protected, such as a book, a blogpost, a photograph, a talk, a journal article, software, an app, a chair, a building or a window decoration.

However, research data is not protected by Dutch copyright law. If the data is housed in a database, this database and the data in it is, in most cases, protected by ‘Database rights’. Database rights protect the creator of a database against retrieval (also known as milking) or re-use of a substantial part of the database. The creator has to make a substantial investment in building the database to obtain protection.   

Who obtains the copyright?

A work’s author or maker (see question above: What is copyright and what is protected?) is automatically granted copyright as soon as the work is expressed. An author does not need to register or to apply for copyright. Copyright may also be owned by two or more people who co-create a work. See Ownership & Licenses for more information and the situation at WUR.

Copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death if the author has no successors. If you want to use materials, you must check if the work is protected by copyright. When the copyright is expired, the work has entered the public domain (see question below: What is the public domain?).

What can I do with my copyright?

Copyright gives the author the right to express, publish, display, distribute and copy his or her work. These rights are called ‘exploitation rights’. Copyright law enables the author to decide how and if others can use the work. For example, only the copyright owner can put a CC-license on a work.

Exploitation rights can be transferred to another party. This is the case when a chapter of a PhD thesis is published. The contract that is signed during the dissertation’s publication process determines whether none, all or a part of the copyright will be transferred to the publisher.

According to Dutch copyright law, if you do not own a work’s copyright, you cannot use this material in your work. There are, however, exceptions, such as the right to cite and reference or the right to use copyright protected material to teach. If no exception applies, you should ask the owner for permission to use the work (see question: What is a license? on the page Ownership & licenses). The original author of a work also has moral rights (see question below: What are my moral rights?)

What are my moral rights?

In addition to exploitation rights, the copyright owner has moral rights. These rights cannot be transferred. Moral rights are closely linked to the author and give the author the right to be attributed. As such, you must always acknowledge your sources by correctly citing and referencing copyright protected materials. As the author of a work, moral rights also give you the right to lodge a formal complaint when others use or change your work without your permission.  

How do I recognize copyright protected materials?

If you find something on the internet, such as on Wikipedia, through Google or through WUR Library Search, this does not automatically mean that this material is free to use. It may be protected by copyright. Copyright may be indicated by the symbol © or by the statement “all rights reserved”. However, these copyright indications are not in every work. Generally, you should consider that everything online has a creative aspect to it, such as a book, a blogpost, a photograph, a talk, a journal article and is copyright protected, unless the works are in the public domain (see question below: What is the public domain?).

In some cases, the work is made available under an open license. This license often lists what you may do with the work. Works with, for example, a CC-license are still copyright protected but may be reproduced and made available under the CC-license terms (see question: What are creative commons licenses? on the page Ownership & licenses).

What is the public domain?

A work enters the public domain when it is not protected by copyright because the author chose not to copyright it (e.g., by a CC-0 license) or because the work’s copyright has expired and the work is now in the public domain. A work in the public domain can be used, reproduced, modified and made publicly available without permission of the original author. However, you still need to acknowledge your sources by correctly citing and referencing them. Moreover, journal articles that are published open access are not automatically part of the public domain. Works with, for example, a CC-license other than CC-0 (see question: What are creative commons licenses? on the page Ownership & licenses) are still copyright protected but may be reproduced and made available under the CC-license terms. 

Finally, in the Netherlands, laws, decrees, judicial and administrative decisions are free of copyright. A work owned and made publicly available by the Dutch government may be used without permission, unless stated otherwise in the publication. 

Where can I find information on patents and other intellectual property rights?

Copyright law is only one of the intellectual property rights. Intellectual property rights also cover patents. Patents protect new technological inventions. The Servicedesk IP is a central department that advises on protection of intellectual property and manages the patent portfolios for Wageningen University & Research. They also handle the applications for new patents. If you have any questions about patents, trademarks, model rights, plant breeders rights, contact the Servicedesk IP (Intranet only).

Intellectual property rights also cover databases. Research data is not protected by Dutch copyright law, but if the data is housed in a database, this database and the data in it are, in most cases, protected by ‘Database rights’. Database rights protect the creator of a database against retrieval (also known as milking) or re-use of a substantial part of the database. The creator has to make a substantial investment in building the database to obtain protection.

Last updated on 15/04/2020.