Copyright law of France

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The droit d'auteur (or French copyright law) developed in the 18th century at the same time as copyright developed in the United Kingdom. Based on the "right of the author" (droit d'auteur) instead of on "copyright", its philosophy and terminology are different from those used in copyright law in common law jurisdictions. It has been very influential in the development of copyright laws in other civil law jurisdictions, and in the development of international copyright law such as the Berne Convention.

French copyright law is defined in the Code de la propriété intellectuelle, which implements European copyright law (directives). Unless otherwise stated, references to individual articles are to the Code de la propriété intellectuelle. Two distinct sets of rights are defined:.

  • Proprietary rights (droits patrimoniaux)
  • Moral rights (droits moraux)

The controversial DADVSI act was due to reform French copyright law in spring 2006. This law, voted by the French Parliament on June 30, 2006, implements the 2001 Information Society Directive; however, there existed considerable differences of opinion as to how to implement the directive, in many respects.

On 8 December 2005 the Tribunal de grande instance de Paris concluded that file sharing through peer-to-peer was not a criminal offense.[1] The judgment was based on the right to "private copy" described in the Intellectual Property Code [fr] which includes the use of digital media.[2]

On 7 March 2006, however, the National Assembly passed the DADVSI Act which implemented—with some modifications—the 2001 Information Society directive. The DADVSI act makes peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted works an offense. It does, however, allow for sharing of private copies of tape recording and other media.


1580, royal printed patent, Carnegie Library of Reims.

The concept of "right of the author", which differs from Anglo-American copyright, finds its roots in the practice of printing patents and royal privileges, which first appeared in the 16th century and became common in the 17th century.[3] The privilege concerned the publication rights to authors' works, rather than authors' rights per se. The first privilege granted in France was given by Henri II in 1551 to Guillaume de Morlaye, his lute player.[3] Through this system of royal privileges, the King granted monopolies to specific editors, and implemented a system of censorship.[3] Privileges were then very short (3 to 10 years), after which the work entered the public domain.[3] The Moulins ordinance of 1566, the first piece of legislation to impose to librarians and editors the request of a printing patent, did not make any mention of authors.[3]

This regime privileged editors over authors, but some authors succeeded in obtaining privileges for their works. During the Muret Affair, in 1568, a lawyer named Marion pleaded for a complete and unrestricted right of property of the author on his work, and intellectual property thus entered the French jurisprudence.[3]

The practice of remunerating authors by some percentage of revenues became common during the 17th century.[3] Playwrights, including Corneille, started to defend their rights because at that time, once a play was published, any troupe could play it without paying anything to its creator.[3] The King thus arbitrated between the rival interests of editors and creators, giving his preference to the former.[3]

In 1761, a court decision granted to Jean de La Fontaine's granddaughters the right of ownership of La Fontaine's work, legitimized by the right of inheritance.[3] In 1777, two other court decisions limited the publisher's right, which was restricted to the life-time of the author.[3]

Such privileges were abolished on the night of 4 August 1789, during the French Revolution. Then the National Convention enacted new legislation.[3] A draft law was proposed by the Abbé Sieyès, which, although allegedly inspired by Condorcet's pamphlet titled Fragments sur la liberté de la presse (Fragments on liberty of the press, 1776), aimed at struggling against the spread of licentious ideas by imposing responsibility for their diffusion on authors, publishers and librarians.[3] Sieyès and Condorcet also advanced the idea of "limited privilege," against perpetual privileges, thus preparing the inclusion in the public domain of the works of Racine, Molière, Rousseau, Voltaire, etc. According to Anne Latournerie, "The first revolutionary attempt to provide to authors a legal recognition of their rights on their texts was therefore not the search of a freedom for authors, but rather the exigency of a responsibility.[3]"

After a controversy concerning dramatic authors and their rebellion, the Chénier Act resulted on July 19, 1793. The July 14, 1866 Act extends the rights until 50 years after the death of the author.[citation needed]

Debates continued throughout the 19th century – notably, between Lamartine and Proudhon – and the inter-war period. As early as August 1936 during the Popular Front, the Minister of National Education and of the Beaux-Arts Jean Zay proposed a draft law based on a new philosophy of the author as an "intellectual worker" (travailleur intellectuel) rather than as an "owner" (propriétaire). Jean Zay placed himself in a moral continuum with Alfred de Vigny, Augustin-Charles Renouard and Proudhon,[3] defending the "spiritual interest of the collectivity".[3] Article 21 of his draft divided the 50 years post-mortem protection period into two different phases, one of 10 years and the other of 40 years which established a sort of legal licence suppressing the right of exclusivity granted to a specific editor.[3] Zay's draft project was particularly opposed by the editor Bernard Grasset, who defended the right of the editor as a "creator of value",[3] while many writers, including Jules Romains and the president of the Société des Gens de Lettres, Jean Vignaud, supported Zay's draft.[3] The draft did not succeed, however, in being voted in before the end of the legislature in 1939.

New discussions were undertaken during the Vichy regime, initiated by a corporatist body,[3] presided over by three jurists, François Hepp, René Dommange, and Paul Lerebours-Pigeonnières.[3] Hepp and Dommange had been at the forefront of the battle against Jean Zay's draft law during the Popular Front.[3]

A Commission had been created in August 1944, presided over by the jurist Jean Escarra, who had co-signed in 1937 an essay with François Hepp and Jean Reault, published by Grasset, which harshly criticized Jean Zay's draft project. Extended debate in the Fourth Republic led to a modernized law along the lines of the Vichy proposals with Act No. 57-298 of March 11, 1957. Hepp proudly highlighted the continuity.[3]

According to the 1957 copyright laws, most works were protected for the duration of the author's life plus 50 years.[4] The 1957 copyright laws were substantially modified by Act No. 85-660 of July 3, 1985, which came into force on January 1, 1986.[4][5] Among other changes, this act introduced various neighbouring rights and increased the length of copyright protection for musical compositions to life of the author plus 70 years.[6][7] These laws were then incorporated into the Intellectual Property Code, enacted on July 1, 1992.[5] Act No. 97-283 of March 27, 1997, increased the copyright term of most works from life plus 50 to life plus 70 years. Because the related EU directive required implementation by July 1, 1995, the new copyright term was given retroactive effect to that date.[7]

In 1997, a court decision outlawed the publication on the Internet of Raymond Queneau's Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, an interactive poem or sort of machine to produce poems.[8] The court decided that the son of Queneau and the Gallimard editions possessed an exclusive and moral right on this poem, thus outlawing any publication of it on the Internet and possibility for the reader to play Queneau's interactive game of poem construction.[8]

In June 2006, the controversial DADVSI Act, which implemented (including modifications to), the 2001 Information Society directive was passed by the National Parliament.[9]

Protected works[edit]

The criterion for protection of a work under French copyright law is that it be an œuvre de l'esprit, a work of the mind (Art. L112-1). Hence there must be a human intellectual contribution to the work. A list of types of work which are protected is given in Art. L112-2: this list (taken from the Berne Convention) is not limitative.

The copyright protection of computer programs was, and to some extent still is, the subject of much debate in France. Patent protection was first excluded by Loi n°68-1 du 2 janvier 1968 sur les brevets d'invention[10] and defined in copyright by Loi n°85-660 du 3 juillet 1985 relative aux droits d'auteur et aux droits des artistes-interprètes, des producteurs de phonogrammes et de vidéogrammes et des entreprises de communication audiovisuelle.[11] The legal position was resolved by the transposition of May 14, 1991 EU Directive into French law: computer programs and any associated preparatory works qualify for copyright protection in France as in other European Union jurisdictions. Databases are protected by a related sui generis right.

The term "author" is used to designate the original creator(s) of any type of protected work, e.g., the artist, photographer, director, architect, etc. Where the author cannot be identified, e.g., for anonymous works and collective works, the copyright is exercised by the original publisher.

A collective work is a work created at the initiative of a natural or legal person who edits it, publishes it and discloses it under his direction and name and in which the personal contributions of the various authors who participated in its production are merged in the overall work for which they were conceived, without it being possible to attribute to each author a separate right in the work as created. A collective work is the property, unless proved otherwise, of the natural or legal person under whose name it has been disclosed. The author's rights, vest in such person." The term of the exclusive right is 70 years from January 1 of the calendar year following that in which the work was published."[12]

Proprietary rights[edit]

The proprietary rights of the author allow him or her to exploit the work for financial gain. The author has the right to authorize the reproduction of the work (droit de reproduction) and to allow its public performance (droit de représentation); the author may also prevent the reproduction or public performance.

The author may transfer his or her proprietary rights to a third party.

Duration of proprietary rights[edit]

The general rule is that the proprietary rights last for 70 years after the death of the author (Art. L123-1), or for 100 years after the author's death if the author is declared to have died on active service (mort pour la France[13][14]) (Art. L123-10). The author is deemed to have died on 31 December of the year of death.

Before February 2007, the periods of World War I and World War II were not taken into account for the determination of the expiry date of proprietary rights, with peculiar ways of counting these (Arts. L123-8 & L123-9 -> see the French Wikipedia article Prorogations de guerre [fr]). These exceptions applied to works published before and during the wars, and must be added whatever the date of the author's death. These extensions were removed (for non-musical works) by the Court of Cassation in February 2007.[15] They still have to be added to the 70 years delay for musical works, because of a 1985 law.[16]

For collaborative works, the date of death of the last collaborator serves as the reference point for the 70 year post mortem auctoris period (Art. L123-2). Audiovisual works are treated similarly, although the list of collaborators is defined by the law: scriptwriter, lyricist, composer, director.

Proprietary rights in pseudonymous, anonymous or collective works last for 70 years after the date of publication (Art. L123-3).

For phonographic works, the proprietary rights last for 50 years after the date of recording.

Posthumous works are copyrighted 25 years from the year of publication.

Copyright management societies[edit]

As in other countries, there are a number of societies which collectively manage the licensing of different types of work and the collection of royalties on behalf of copyright holders. These societies typically operate as associations, and are regulated by the Code de la propriété intellectuelle (Arts. L321-1 to L321-13) and the Ministry of Culture. The most important are:

  • Centre Français d'Exploitation du droit de copie (CFC)
  • Sacem
  • SACD

Moral rights[edit]

French copyright law treats a protected work as an extension of the personality of the author which is protected by a certain number of moral rights. In general, the author has the right to "the respect of his name, of his status as author, and of his work" (Art. L121-1). The following rights are usually recognised:

  • right of publication (droit de divulgation): the author is the sole judge as to when the work may be first made available to the public (Art. L121-2).
  • right of attribution (droit de paternité): the author has the right to insist that his name and his authorship are clearly stated.
  • right to the respect of the work's integrity (droit au respect de l'intégrité de l'oeuvre): the author can prevent any modification to the work.
  • right of withdrawal (droit de retrait et de repentir): the author can prevent further reproduction, distribution or representation in return for compensation paid to the distributor of the work for the damage done to him (Art. L121-4).
  • right to protection of honour and reputation (droit à s'opposer à toute atteinte préjudiciable à l'honneur et à la réputation).

The moral rights of the author may conflict with the property rights of the owner of the work, for example an architect who tries to prevent modifications to a building he designed. Such conflicts are resolved on a case by case basis, and recent jurisprudence has led to a weakening of certain moral rights, notably the right to the respect of the work.

The moral rights are inalienable, perpetual and inviolable. They pass to the author's heirs or executor on the author's death, but may not be otherwise transferred or sold by the author or legal successors. Any agreement to waive an author's moral rights is invalid, although the author cannot be forced to protect moral rights to the work, and always has the option to refrain from exercising them.

The public domain under French copyright law[edit]

A work enters the public domain (domaine public) once the proprietary rights over it have expired. It may then be used without charge, so long as the moral rights of the author are respected.[17] Notably, the name of the author and the original title of the work must be cited.


Art. L122-5 defines the exceptions to French copyright law, which are relatively restricted.[18]

Once a work has been published, the author cannot prevent:

1. Private family performances.
2. Copies for the private and personal use of the copier. This provision does not apply to works of art, computer programs (where a single safeguard copy is allowed, Art. L122-6-1-II) and databases.
3. In cases where the name of the author and the source are clearly indicated,
a) Analyses and short citations justified by the critical, polemical, scientific or pedagogical nature of the work.
b) Press reviews.
c) Diffusion of public speeches as current news.
d) Reproductions of works of art in catalogues for auctions in France (subject to regulatory restrictions).
4. Parody, pastiche and caricature, "taking into account the usage of the genre".
5. Acts necessary to access a database within the limits of the agreed use.

There is no specific provision for government works or laws: the copyright is normally held by the relevant public body.

Criminal sanctions[edit]

Contrary to the position in most Common Law jurisdictions, the breach of proprietary rights is a criminal offense in France: contrefaçon (Arts. L335-2 to L335-4). This attracts a fine of up to 300,000 Euros (approx. US$391,850, or £250,300 as of January 2012) and a term of up to three (3) years imprisonment. These penalties are increased to a fine of up to €500,000 and a term of up to five (5) years imprisonment if the offense is committed in an organised group (bande organisée). There is no distinction between the breach of French copyright and the breach of foreign copyright, though the breach must occur in the French territory to be punishable. The import of infringing copies into France, and the distribution of such copies, are punished under the same provisions and are subject to the same penalties.

Relation to international copyright law[edit]

Under Art. 55 of the Constitution of 1958, a ratified treaty is superior to French domestic law. Hence the conflict of laws provisions of the Berne Convention will be used in determining the applicability of the French Code de la propriété intellectuelle.

Difference between copyright and droit d'auteur[edit]

The droit d'auteur or authors' rights, in France, Belgium, Romania or Germany, grant (subject to some exceptions) the benefice of the right to natural persons (the author and heirs) and denies it to legal persons (except for collective works, and for software), whereas "droits voisins" or neighbouring rights, grant rights to the editor or the producer. Both authors' rights and neighbouring rights are copyrights in the sense of English or U.S. law.[19]

Copyright requires a material fixation of the work, as for example a speech or a choreography work, although it is an intellectual work (an œuvre de l'esprit), they will not be protected if they are not embodied in a material support. Such requirement does not exist under the droit d'auteur. Thus an improvised live performance would still benefit from the protection of "droit d'auteur".

Moral rights[edit]

The classical difference between the two systems is the recognition of moral rights in the droit d'auteur whereas such rights did not initially exist in copyright. Hence, in civil law, the author is granted a moral right which sees the expression of the personality of the author in the work. In practice, the author will have a right to disclosure, a paternity right, a guarantee that the integrity of his work and his wishes are respected as well as a right of withdrawal (i.e., an author has the right to request his work to be withdrawn from circulation in exchange for compensation from those persons involved in its distribution who would moreover enjoy the right of priority in the event of the said work being redistributed). This right is attached to the author; it is inalienable and transmissible at the death of the author.

Historically, such rights do not exist in copyright, as it has been for decades an economic model, granting solely proprietary rights to authors. However, several countries have harmonized their legislation since the ratification of the Berne Convention. However, the United States of America still refuse to apply the moral rights recognized by this convention.[20]

Nonetheless, In the United States of America, moral rights are explicitly recognized for works of visual art. Indeed, the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) recognizes moral rights but applies it only to works of visual art.[21]

Difference between copyright and droit d'auteur for audiovisual and cinematographic works[edit]

As regards the management of patrimonial rights, the difference between copyright and droit d'auteur is not so clear as in both system the producer controls the exploiting of the work. It can be stated that the droit d'auteur favours the author while copyright favours the right to copy (exploitation right) linked to the work itself.


Under French law, the audiovisual work is considered as a collaborative work, that is, a work that has been created by multiple authors. The authorship is granted to natural persons (co-author) that have created the relevant work: scriptwriter, author of the musical composition etc. (L.113.7).[22] In United States of America, audiovisual works are considered as "works made for hire" (works produced in relation with a contract for hire or service). The author of a work (either a natural or legal person) is the producer.

Term of protection of a work[edit]

In France, a work is protected until 70 years after the death of the last surviving co-author.

Applicable law for scriptwriters and directors[edit]

French law recognizes two types of droit d'auteur: moral rights and proprietary rights. French law governs the relation between authors and producers; such relations shall be formalized in a contract according to which the author assigns his proprietary rights to the producer.

In the United States of America, labor law governs the relations between "creators" and production companies. Scriptwriters and directors are consequently the employees of the producer. As such, they can be fired and replaced at any moment, and their names will appear in the credits only if their work fulfills the necessary conditions for the attributions of "credits" as provisioned under the MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement).[23]

American Law does not always grant moral rights to creators. Some rights related to moral and proprietary rights are negotiated.

Towards harmonization[edit]

The French and common-law systems have converged somewhat over time. Analogues to moral rights are increasingly recognized in U.S. courts, and eleven U.S. states recognize explicitly moral rights in law. The states of California and New York guarantee the integrity of the author's work, and the Visual Artists Rights Act, enacted October 27, 1990, incorporates moral rights of artists in a federal law. In the United Kingdom, moral rights have been incorporated in copyright law (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988).

For a historical and comparative overview of moral rights law in the United States of America, see Thomas F. Cotter (1997) "Pragmatism, Economics, and the Droit Moral", 76 North Carolina Law Review 1 .[24]

The current tendency is that the droit d'auteur tends to guarantee an economic protection while copyright guarantee increasingly moral rights.

See also[edit]


Much of this article is based on the article "Droit d'auteur" in French Wikipedia.

  1. ^ (PDF). 30 November 2006 Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 November 2006. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ "Legifrance - le service public de l'accès au droit". Archived from the original on 2005-06-07. Retrieved 2005-07-31.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Anne Latournerie, Petite histoire des batailles du droit d’auteur, Multitudes n°5, May 2001 (in French)
  4. ^ a b "Loi n°57-298 du 11 mars 1957 sur la propriété littéraire et artistique". Légifrance. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Copyright rules in France". RPC. 23 January 2018. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  6. ^ "Law No. 85-660, of July 3, 1985, on Author's Rights and on the Rights of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Videograms and Audiovisual Communication Enterprises" (PDF). WIPO. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  7. ^ a b Derclaye, Estelle, ed. (2009). Research Handbook on the Future of EU Copyright. Edward Elgar. pp. 149–159. ISBN 978-1848446007.
  8. ^ a b Luce Libera, "12 268 millions de poèmes et quelques... De l’immoralité des droits moraux," Multitudes n°5, May 2001 (in French)
  9. ^ "La farce du téléchargement, par Michel Alberganti". Le Monde (in French). 2006-03-14.
  10. ^ "Loi n°68-1 du 2 janvier 1968 sur les brevets d'invention" Legifrance (in French)
  11. ^ "Loi n° 85-660 du 3 juillet 1985 relative aux droits d'auteur et aux droits des artistes-interprètes, des producteurs de phonogrammes et de vidéogrammes et des entreprises de communication audiovisuelle" Legifrance (in French)
  12. ^ "Literary and Artistic Property" (PDF), Intellectual Property Code, legifrance, retrieved 2017-06-04
  13. ^ Angelopoulos, Christina (13 September 2012). "The Myth of European Term Harmonisation: 27 Public Domains for the 27 Member States". Rochester, NY. SSRN 2145862. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ Rybicka, Katarzyna (23 January 2015). "The Little Prince: almost in the Public Domain". Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  15. ^ "04-12.138Arrêt n° 280 du 27 février 2007Cour de cassation - Première chambre civile - Cour de cassation".
  16. ^ (in French) Loi n° 85-660 du 3 juillet 1985, art. 8.
  17. ^ See Droit Moral as defined by the Cour de Cassation of Victor Hugo
  18. ^ Legifrance (ed.). "Article L122-5 du code de la propriété intellectuelle" (in French). Retrieved November 8, 2010.
  19. ^ Related rights
  20. ^ Kwall, Roberta Rosenthal. "The Soul of Creativity: Forging a Moral Rights Law for the United States". Stanford University Press, 2010, p. 30.
  21. ^ Gassaway, Laura. Copyright and moral rights. (Copyright Corner). "Information Outlook," Vol. 6, No. 12 (December 2002), p. 40.
  22. ^ Legifrance (ed.). "Article L113.7 du code de la propriété intellectuelle". Archived from the original on July 13, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
  23. ^ Writers Guild of America (ed.). "2011 Writers Guild of America Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement". Retrieved December 19, 2011.
  24. ^ North Carolina Law Review (ed.). "Thomas F. Cotter, Pragmatism, Economics, and the Droit Moral, 76 N.C.L.Rev. 1 (1997)". Retrieved December 25, 2011.

External links[edit]