Copyright and the right of ownership

Good to know

If third parties have acquired the ownership (Art. 641 SCC) of a protected work (e.g. someone bought a painting by Artist X), they may have become the owner of the work, but they do not have “carte blanche” to do anything they want with the work. They are bound by certain principles of copyright law:

  • The independence of ownership and copyright (Art. 16 para. 3 CopA). The right of ownership does not grant owners the right to make alterations to the work (Art. 16 para. 3 CopA) because the right to a work’s integrity belongs to the moral right of the author. Alterations to the work require the consent of the author. However, the Copyright Act makes special provision for building structures – ‘works of architecture that have been constructed may be altered by the owner’ (Art. 12 para. 3 CopA). As a result, an architect, for example, cannot invoke the infringement of the work’s integrity and his personal right when the roof of a building designed by him has to be renovated (BGE 117 II 466). However, authors can oppose any distortion of their work that infringes their personality.
  • Author’s right of access (Art. 14 para. 1 CopA). Any person who owns (Art. 641 SCC) or is in possession of a copy of a work (Art. 919 et seq. SCC) must provide the author with access to it under certain conditions.
  • Protection against destruction (Art. 15 para. 1 CopA): owners may not destroy original works of which no further copies exist without first offering to return them to the author.