Q&A: copyright ownership and transfer in Sweden

Bizar Male

Ownership and transfer

Eligible owners

Who is the owner of a copyrighted work?

Any natural or legal person can be a holder of copyright. However, moral rights are not vested in legal persons.

Employee and contractor work

May an employer own a copyrighted work made by an employee?

Generally, copyright to works created in the course of employment is transferred from the employee to the employer only to the extent that is explicitly or implicitly agreed between the employer and employee. Thus, there are no statutory requirements for the agreement to be express or in writing. There is no ban on an employer being the full and sole holder of a copyrighted work made by an employee.

Although the Copyright Act includes a chapter on the transfer of copyright, rules governing the relationship between the employer and employee are few. One specific rule should be observed: section 40a of the Copyright Act presumes that copyright in a computer program created by an employee as a part of his or her tasks, or following instructions by the employer, is automatically transferred to the employer unless otherwise agreed.

The legal principles on the transfer of copyright with regard to employees and commissioned work were discussed by a legislative commission (SOU 2010:24). The commission forwarded a proposal for the codification and definition in the Copyright Act of the ‘rule of thumb’, a principle developed in Swedish case law. The commission suggested that an employer would be given a limited but exclusive right to use works created in the framework of employment relationships. However, to date, the government has not forwarded any proposal for statutory amendments in that regard.

A judgment by the Swedish Labour Court (27 November 2019, Case No. A 69/18) illustrates the context-specific demarcation issues in determining whether copyright has been transferred from an employee to the employer. An animator had created a set of popular characters for children, first as a freelance contractor for approximately 10 years and later as an employee. Even though the matter of copyright ownership was first mentioned in a supplement to the employment agreement, the Labour Court found that the company had acquired the copyright to all works created within the scope of the parties’ contractual and employment relationships.

May a hiring party own a copyrighted work made by an independent contractor?

Generally, it can be said that copyright to works created by an independent contractor are transferred to the hiring party only to the extent that is explicitly or implicitly agreed between the parties. Thus, there are no statutory requirements for the agreement to be expressly made or in writing. There is no ban for a hiring party to be the full and sole holder of a copyrighted work made by an independent contractor.

The legal principles on the transfer of copyright with regard to commissioned works were discussed by a legislative commission (SOU 2010:24). The commission forwarded a proposal for the codification of a ‘principle on specification’ developed in Swedish case law. In short, the commission proposed statutory provision where the hiring party would not acquire a more extensive right in a copyrighted work than what was expressed in the agreement or stemming from its purpose. However, to date, the government has not forwarded any proposal for statutory amendments in that regard.

A judgment by the Swedish Labour Court (27 November 2019, Case No. A 69/18) illustrates the context-specific demarcation issues in determining whether copyright has been transferred from an independent contractor to the hiring party. An animator had created a set of popular characters for children, first as a freelance contractor for approximately 10 years and later as an employee. Even though the matter of copyright ownership was first mentioned in a supplement to the employment agreement, the Labour Court found that the company had acquired the copyright to all works created within the scope of the parties’ contractual and employment relationships.

Joint and collective ownership

May a copyrighted work be co-owned?

Section 6 of the Copyright Act states that copyright will belong to the authors jointly, if a work has two or more authors and where the contributions do not constitute independent works.

Each author may dispose of his or her rights and bring an action for infringement. However, the use of a copyrighted work is subject to mutual consent between the joint holders.

Transfer of rights

May rights be transferred? If so, what rules and procedures apply?

Yes. Under Swedish law, copyright is regarded as property. The copyright holder is entitled to freedom of contract and copyright may, with an exception for moral rights, be transferred, in whole or in part, or licensed (see section 27 of the Copyright Act). Under section 28, the person to whom a copyright has been transferred may not alter the work or transfer the copyright to others, unless otherwise agreed. One exception from this principle exists where the copyright forms part of a business activity; in that case, the applicable party (eg, an employer) may transfer the copyright together with the business activity.

No formalities are required to secure the legal effect of a transfer or an assignment.

Licensing

May rights be licensed? If so, what rules and procedures apply?

Yes. Under Swedish law, copyright is regarded as property. The copyright holder is entitled to freedom of contract and copyright may, with an exception for moral rights, be transferred, in whole or in part, or licensed (see section 27 of the Copyright Act). Section 28 of the Copyright Act states that in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the person to whom a copyright has been transferred, which includes licences, may not alter the work or license the copyright to others.

In addition, the Act includes statutory provisions on, for example, film and book publishing contracts. Mention should also be made of the extended effect of collective licences (see Chapter 3a of the Copyright Act).

There are no formal requirements for copyright licences.

Are there compulsory licences? What are they?

Yes, the Copyright Act includes a number of provisions on compulsory licences, such as section 18 on the making of composite works for use in educational activities and section 47 on the use of sound recordings for public performances (a neighbouring right).

Are licences administered by performing rights societies? How?

There are several collective licensing bodies operating in Sweden – for example:

  • the Visual Copyright Society;
  • Bonus Copyright Access;
  • the Swedish Performing Rights Society; and
  • the Swedish Artists and Musicians Interest Organisation.

 

The Patent and Registration Office is in the process of compiling an exhaustive list of all registered collective licensing bodies.

The collective licensing bodies’ activities are regulated in the Act on Collective Management of Copyright (Swedish Books of Statute 2016:977). The Patent and Registration Office is entrusted to monitor collective licensing bodies and register new ones.

Termination

Is there any provision for the termination of transfers of rights?

No. The provisions on transfers of rights in sections 27 to 42 of the Copyright Act are non-compulsory. General principles of contract law apply, along with specific principles on the construction of agreements in the field of copyright. The language of a transfer is vital as to the scope and limitations of an assignment.

Recordal

Can documents evidencing transfers and other transactions be recorded with a government agency?

No. A copyright assignment agreement may be notarised, although there is no statutory requirement in this regard.

Law stated date

Correct on

Give the date on which the information above is accurate.

These contents have been verified between March and May 2020.

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