Copyright & CC Licences

In your day-to-day scientific work, copyright will affect you when you publish or share your own work and when you cite or re-use the work of others, including modified or derivative versions. Here we outline what you should know for your own publications as well as for the re-use of copyrighted content.

In brief

  • Copyright applies to all "intellectual creations with an individual character" (Swiss CopA)
  • All works are protected as soon as they are created
  • There are exceptions to copyright, e.g. quotations or private use
  • While there is no globally binding law, mutual recognition of minimum standards exist between countries

Legal basis

Copyright is a form of intellectual property. It grants the author or group of authors of a work the recognition of their authorship as well as the exclusive right to decide on whether, when and where their work shall be published. Upon publishing, they also determine how the work can be accessed, shared and re-used, for example through Open Access publishing or by applying Creative Commons licences.

Works within the sense of the Swiss Copyright Act (CopA) are “(...) intellectual creations with an individual character (...).” Common types of works in the scientific context are, for example, manuscripts, illustrations and computer programs. Designs, titles and parts of works are also protected by CopA.

Raw data is not necessarily considered work in the sense of copyright. However, copyright may apply to data visualizations or processed data, provided a "creative and individual character".

All works are protected as soon as they are created. Protection does not expire until 50 years (computer programs) or 70 years (all other works) after the author’s death. When protection no longer applies, a work becomes public domain and can be used legally by anyone.

Exceptions to copyright

Exceptions to copyright allow the use of parts of a work without the requirement of permission or remuneration claims. Chapter 5 of the CopA lists several exceptions to copyright. Most relevant for scientific work are:


  • The private use of copyrighted work is permitted within the private sphere of family and friends, for educational purposes and for internal information or documentation in companies, public administrations and institutions.

    Outside the private sphere, the “complete or substantial copying of a work obtainable commercially” is not permitted. This means, for example, a single article may be shared, but not the complete journal issue.

  • For private use as defined above, the copyright holder cannot claim remuneration. Only when a work is copied or reproduced, the person making the copy owes a remuneration to the author.

  • Works can be copied for scientific research, i.e. downloaded, if "the copying is due to the use of a technical process and if the works to be copied can be lawfully accessed."

    This article can be applied for text and data mining (TDM) projects. However, there are other legal aspects to text data mining that need to be taken into account. These will be shortly available on our website.

  • Quotations are exempt from copyright if they „serve as an explanation, a reference or an illustration and the extent of the quotation is justified for such purpose.“ The designation of the quotation and the indication of the source are obligatory.

    A quotation that is not presented correctly and clearly is considered plagiarism, which is both a violation of copyright and scientific misconduct. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, you can use the Lib4RI plagiarism check before submitting your manuscript.


You can claim remuneration for your copyrighted work, for example your thesis. In Switzerland, ProLitteris is the authorised copyright collecting society for (scientific) literature, photographs and arts.

The global perspective

Exceptions to copyright comparable to Swiss law are also listed in the legislation of other countries, for example in section 107 (“Fair Use”) in the US code, or division 6 (“Limitations of Copyright”) in German law.

While there is no globally binding copyright law, international treaties, such as the Berne Convention, establish basic principles of mutual recognition among members. In general, the copyright applicable is that of the country in which the work is used.