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Copyright is a form of intellectual property. It grants the author or group of authors of a work the recognition of their authorship. They have 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. Instruments like publishing Open Access and applying CC BY licences can lease copyright restrictions.
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, data visualizations or processed data may be protected, 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 allow the use of parts of a work without the requirement of permission or remuneration claims. CopA chapter 5 lists several exceptions to copyright. Most relevant for scientific work are:
Art. 19: Private use. The private use of copyrighted work is permitted within the 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.
Exceptions to copyright comparable to Swiss law are also listed in the legislation of other countries. Examples are section 107 (“Fair Use”) in the US code, or division 6 (“Limitations of Copyright”) in German law.
There is no globally binding copyright law. However, international treaties establish basic principles of mutual recognition among members. In general, the copyright applicable is that of the country in which the work is used.