Copyright issues

On this page, we will discuss concepts related to copyrights.

  • creator, work and copy
  • rights
  • exceptions
  • consequences

Creator, work and copy

The creator is the person who has created a work. The work can be the product of any creative work, such as a text of fiction or fact, a painting, a photograph, a composition, a computer program or a web site.

Copyrights are the legal rights of the creator to dispose of his or her work.The copyright sets in automatically when the work is created, so the creator does not need to e.g. register or publish it, or mark it with a © sign. This means that any work you have created, even if it is only laying in your desk drawer, is protected by copyright. Copyrights cannot protect e.g. an idea, a subject, or a plot; you cannot plagiarise a poem written by someone else, but you can write your own version on the same subject. How similar the poems are decides whether they are two different works of art.

In order for a work to be protected by copyright, it must be established as a piece of work. It can be established if it is the product of independent and original creative work. Different types of work are established in different ways. A piece of writing, for example, is easier to establish as a work than a utility article.

The copyright protects the work. A copy of a work is a physical representation of a work, such as a book or photograph. In addition to the copyright, a copy may be encumbered with the owner’s right; when you buy a book from a bookstore you will acquire the owner’s rights to the copy, but the copyright remains with the author. After buying the copy, you may sell it or lend it to others, but to lend films or computer programs, you always need the permission of the creator.

When you write an assignment or essay, your copyright to the work will arise. Your work does not need to be scientific or artistic, but your creative contribution is sufficient to merit copyright protection.


The creator of a work has completely power over it. The copyright gives the creator both economic and moral rights:

  • Economic rights ensure that only the creator has the right to exploit the work. This means that the creator alone may determine
    • how to manufacture copies of the work and
    • how to offer the copies to the public.
  • Moral rights protect the creator’s honour. These rights require the name of the creator to be mentioned every time the work is used, in accordance with usual practices. The work may not be changed in a way that dishonours the creator.

Creating a copy includes is any kind of reproduction of a work, such as digitising a book or photograph or taking a photo of a painting.

  • Making a work available to the public refers to performing, displaying, disseminating or conveying it to a wider audience.
  • The performance of a work includes public singing and playing, while displaying is what takes place in museum exhibitions, for example.

The distribution of works includes the sale of copies of books and the distribution of works online, for example.

Permission to make a work available to the public must always be obtained from the author. For example, you may not post copyrighted material made by another person on your open blog without permission. However, you can link to another site as long as the source is legal.

The main rule for copyrights is that it applies for as long as the creator lives and 70 after his or her year of death. The transfer of all or part of economic rights (e.g., to an employer or company) and compensation must always be agreed upon separately.


The most significant copyright restriction concerns purely private use. A few copies of the original legal work may be made for private use, but a copy made for private use may not be redistributed. A copy of a digital recording that is shared online unlawfully may not be made even for private use.

Another exception to copyright, which is of particular importance to the scientific community, concerns the right to quote copyrighted material. You may quote the material in accordance with good academic practices, as much as is needed for your purposes, and in a relevant context; keep in mind that you have to mention the source whenever quoting.

Under permission the university has obtained from Kopiosto, teachers and students may copy and scan a limited number of pages from printed publications and copy minor quantities of text and images from open websites for theses or a closed learning environment, such as Moodle. Check the details of the permission from the Kopiosto website.

Authors also have the right to make their materials freely available to others.

CC licences

The terms and conditions of using the materials can be specified in a CC licence, for example. There are several different CC licences, and each defines the conditions under which others can use the work.   

The most common of these is CC BY (Attribution), which is also the basis for other CC licences. Often, the version number (currently 4.0) is provided in connection with the licence, such as CC BY 4.0 (Attribution). A work labelled with the licence CC BY, can be used quite freely. For example, the work can be translated into a different language and even larger parts of it can be used in your own work – according to good citation practices, of course.

The CC-BY licence requires you to:

  • indicate and link the original source appropriately  
  • provide a link to the licence
  • mention any changes you have made to the materials.

If they wish, the author may also choose a licence that restricts the modification of the work (CC BY-ND, Attribution-NoDerivatives) or commercial use (CC BY-NC, Attribution-NonCommercial). Under the CC0 licence, the author hands over the work for free universal use (public domain). A work published under the CC0 licence may be copied, modified, distributed and displayed without permission, even for commercial purposes, without the need to mention the author’s name. However, it is good academic practice to mention the name of the original author.

You could use a CC licence, for example, for licencing the slides of your presentation or blog post, if you wish, as long as you have produced the material yourself or have the rights to use it. The recommended licence for educational materials is CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike). If you modify a material licenced under the CC BY-SA licence and republish, you must do so under the same CC BY-SA licence.   

The licences are international, meaning they are valid globally, and the licence texts are translated into different languages. For more information on CC licences and their use, please see the Creative Commons website. In addition, the Helsinki University Library website has answers to questions about copyright and CC licences.

More copyright learning materials:
– in the Kopiraittila Academy, you will be able e.g. test your knowledge with quizzes.


Any infringements on copyrights will be followed by an obligation to compensate the creator for the damage caused. Penal codes have been enacted for the more blatant offences.

More information about copyrights:
The copyright site by the Ministry of Education and Culture
The copyright act (404/1961)
The copyright decree (574/1995)