Copyright: the basics in Belgian law


This is Belgian law. The exceptions in the Belgian copyright law are only valid for use of works in Belgium (whether or not the author is Belgian or not is not relevant, as is the country the work is published in).

What is protected?

Works protected by copyright:

- have a concrete form: copyright doesn't protect ideas

- are original: the author should be able "to express his/her creative mind", in order to "express his or her personality"

- don't have to be registered: copyright starts at creation

Who is the copyright holder?

The creator(s) of the work and their heirs, unless the rights have been transferred through a contract or a statute.

How long does the protection term last?

Until 70 years after the death of the author or the surviving co-author.

Which rights?

Moral rights: protect the link between you and your work. These rights cannot be transferred, they can only be waived, which means you choose not to enforce them.

  • Divulgation right: the author decides when a work is ready to be made public, to disclose it
  • Paternity right: the author has the right to claim authorship (or to refuse it)
  • Integrity right: the author can oppose any alteration of the work, especially disguise or damage

Economic rights: give the author the possibility to exploit his/her work. These rights are transferable.

  • The right to reproduce: the right to make several copies of a work. This right also includes adaptations or translations.
  • The right to lease and loan your work
  • The right to distribute:  the right to disseminate copies of the work
  • The right for public communication: the right to give the public access to the work (live performance, cable and satellite transmissions, transmissions via electronic networks/the internet, etc.)
    For each of these acts you need the permission (licence) of the copyright holder. In many cases you will obtain permission by paying. But in some cases an open licence, such as creative commons, is used to give permission upfront. More information on


There are, however, several exceptions to the general rule to ask permission. Some exceptions relevant for education and research are:

  • Reproduce (copy, print, scan, save)
    • complete works (book, painting, photo, ...).
    • except for scores (sheet music).
    • provided you mention the source and the name of the author
  • Incorporate works in your own work and distribute, as far as it is only a quotation and for as far as you mention the source.
  • Communicate works to the public
    • free of charge performance of works in the framework of school activities, within or outside the premises of the educational establishment, and as long as the public consists of students/pupils and teachers. E.g. presentations in class with PowerPoint, read works, play music works and audiovisual works.
    • free of charge performance of works in a public exam (public: students, teachers, family members).
    • the communication of works by educational or research establishments for as far as they are protected by suitable measures (e.g. within a closed transmission network or a login).
  • Communicate via access points (research and educational institutions)
    • the communication of works of the collection via special terminals within the premises, for the visitor's research or private study. 
    • the preceding digitalisation of works to make this communication possible.

Step-by-step plan

Step 1: Is a work protected by copyright law?

  • Is a work original? If not, free use.
  • Is the work a public instrument? If yes, free use.
  • Has the author died more than 70 years ago? If yes, free use.

If the work is indeed protected by copyright law:

Step 2: Can an exception be applied here? E.g.

  • the exception of quotation
  • the exception of private copy
  • the exception for use in research or education

If yes, use the exception in accordance with to the conditions of the exception.

If not:

Step 3: Ask the copyright holder permission (or the rights management company), usually connected to a financial compensation. However, in some cases, permission is granted via a licence (negotiated or an open licence such as a Creatie Commons (CC) licence).

Source reference

Wetboek van economisch recht, boek XI Intellectuele eigendom, Titel 5 - Auteursrecht en naburige rechten, HOOFDSTUK 2. – Auteursrecht (p. 433)

Explanation basic principles via samenwerkingsverband auteursrecht en samenleving

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Last modified May 21, 2024, 9:30 a.m.