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What is copyright?
Copyright and academic education
Regulations and policy
Copyright-free work
Government publications
Free image and sound material
Free texts


What is copyright?

Copyright involves the rights governing literary, scientific or artistic works. The maker of such a work is automatically granted copyright. The work does not need to be registered. Copyrights can be transferred to another party. The copyright expires 70 years after the maker’s death.

Article 1 of the Copyright Act (in Dutch) gives a clear definition of copyright: ‘Copyright is the exclusive right of the author of a literary, scientific or artistic work or his successors in title to communicate that work to the public and to reproduce it, subject to the limitations laid down by law’.

The work
The work must have its own original character, bearing the personal stamp of the maker. Moreover, the work must be communicated. A text in someone’s head is, as yet, unprotected. In Article 10 of the Copyright Act (in Dutch), a number of examples are provided of what may be regarded as works, including books, journal articles and photos.

The maker
The maker of such a work is granted copyright. There may be multiple makers. Consider an article that is written by two authors. Both authors are makers of the article. And both share the copyright.

Exploitation rights
The maker of a work has the option to make the work public, or reproduce his or her work.

- Publishing a book is an example of it public. Online publication is another example of this.
- Making an copy is an example of reproducing a book.

The maker may transfer his or her exploitation rights to a publisher, for example.

Personality rights
These are rights closely linked with the maker. Consider, for example:

- the right to attribution
- the right to object to changes and/or modifications to the work

Personality rights may not be transferred to any other party. This is in contrast to the exploitation rights, which may well be transferred.

Portrait right
Closely related to copyright is portrait right. We speak of a portrait when a person is shown in a recognisable way. The maker of a portrait (photographer, artist, etc.) has the copyright. However, he or she may not publish the portrait without the consent of the person portrayed.


The main rule here is that permission is required from the copyright holder to use his or her work. Permission may involve the way the work is published or reproduced, the period of time and/or the geographic area. Even when permission to use a work is acquired, a referencing is still mandatory. This is necessary to prevent plagiarism.

(Non-)exclusive licenses
There are different types of permission, called licenses. There are exclusive and non-exclusive licenses. An exclusive license means that, for example, only the publisher is authorised to use the book in the agreed manner. A non-exclusive license means that other parties, besides for instance the publisher, may use the work.

Open license
The maker of the work may give prior permission for use of the work. For example, there are the creative commons licenses. These licenses allow the maker to determine what someone else may do with his or her work. The so-called CC-BY license is the broadest license. Reuse is fully permitted. Even with an open license, referencing is still always required.

copyright_attribution Attribution






Copyright and academic education

In some situations, the public interest of education is more important than the interest of the maker. The legislator has appointed a limited number of cases, which do not require the permission of the maker. In practice, you can include texts, images and sound in your educational material under certain conditions.

Regulations and policy

Both at the EU level (e.g. Directive 2001/29/EC (PDF), in Dutch, and the national level, (the Copyright Act, in Dutch), there is legislation in the field of copyright law. On 1 July 2015, an important amendment to the Copyright Act came into force. This amendment (in Dutch) has the primary objective of strengthening the position of the author and simplifying open access publishing.

Under the new Article 25fa of the Copyright Act, work can be published in open access, subject to the following conditions:

  • Dutch law must apply.
  • The work must be of an academic nature (articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals).
  • They must be short works (independent contributions of less than 8000 words).
  • It involves original work from the author (including the final version). The publisher is not obliged to provide the author with final draft PDF versions.
  • The research must be funded from Dutch public funds.
  • The work should not be made publicly available (online).
  • A reasonable period of time must have elapsed after original publication. The explanation noted the period of 12 months, which is currently used in Germany.
  • Referencing is mandatory.

Within the university
At Radboud University, authors of theses or other scientific publications retain their own copyrights. This is not a given, because a thesis is written under the university’s terms of employment. Many employers retain certain copyright elements, such as the exploitation rights of works created in their employ. However, the Executive Board of Radboud University has determined that the author of a thesis retains his/her copyright.

Copyright-free work

The copyright expires 70 years after the maker’s death. Until then, the copyright holders may be: the maker, his/her heirs, the commissioning party, the employer, any other person to whom the rights have been sold or transferred (publishers or others), or collective management organisations. If in doubt, you must always find out who holds the copyright and request permission. The copyright holder of online material can usually be discovered on the website under ‘copyright’.

70 years after the maker’s death, the copyright expires and the work enters the public domain. This means that the work may be published and edited without receiving permission. To avoid plagiarism, referencing is also mandatory in the use of copyright-free works.

Government publications

Laws, judicial decisions, policy documents and reports are free of copyright, unless otherwise stated in the relevant publication. These are freely available for use. Please note: when it comes to the editing of such works, the editor does hold the copyright. Always ensure you cite your sources.

Free image and sound material

It is not easy to find copyright-free materials. It is often easier, for instance, to search for photos with use already granted. You can identify these pictures through their creative common licenses. For example, you can find these photos via Unsplash, Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons or Europeana. Make sure to always include a reference.

Some search engines like Google also have the ability to search images with certain user rights. Google offers the option of searching for images labelled for reuse, including adjustments. Also make sure to include a reference.

As a student or employee of Radboud University or Radboudumc, you can order image and sound material free of charge at Academia. Academia is the archive of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. It is also possible to have a file created for a specific topic. Make sure to cite your sources well.

Students and staff of Radboud University and Radboudumc can also download or retrieve photos from the image bank in the brand portal of Radboud University. In general, use of these photos is free of charge. Of course, referencing is always required.

In general, the following applies: when in doubt about use, contact the copyright holder.

Free texts

Copyright no longer applies on old books (at least 70 years having passed after the author’s death). These books can be downloaded, printed and distributed free of charge. However, referencing is still required. Delpher is an example of a database where you can find such books.

Google has also digitised many books and made them available for personal, non-commercial purposes. References are also required for these books.