Copyright protects works of the language, of art, of architecture, of photography and film, of music, as well as other forms of art. Furthermore, works protected by copyright include computer programs and scientific and technical representations. Copyright itself is inalienable, “just like one’s eyesight”. It is only the author who is allowed to decide whether and how his work is to be published, copied and distributed. However, the author is free to grant licence to his work to third parties for the purpose of marketability of his work. Certain personal rights to the work itself always remain with the author, though. This constitutes one of the most important differences between German and Anglo-American law.
Copyright law in the broader sense comprises also the so-called ancillary copyright, which protects other works in the area of art and science, i.e. photos which lack the necessary degree of creation, interpretations by performers and the works of music and film producers, broadcasting corporations and database compilers.
Both of these protective rights need to be properly “administered” on behalf of both authors and performers who can partly avail themselves of authors’ societies by becoming their member. In the area of music, such societies include among others GEMA (Society for Musical Performing and Musical Reproduction Rights) and GVL (Collecting Society for Neighbouring Rights), both seated in Berlin. GEMA and GVL claim licensing fees for their members when their works are performed, broadcast and published in audio and audiovisual form on a royalty basis. They distribute the amounts collected to the respective rights owners in accordance with the provisions of their distribution plan.
It is not obligatory to belong to any collecting society. No copyright or ancillary copyright can be obtained by means of membership. Each author is free to decide if he prefers to join a collecting society or to administer his rights himself. The latter usually turns out to be an organisational task which is impossible to carry out.