The German copyright is subject to a number of limitations and exceptions – partially harmonized across the EU – that serve various private and public interests.
In recent years, these limitations and exceptions have repeatedly been the subject of public discussion. One reason for this is the demand of “access to information” or “access to culture”. This often includes the demand for access in the sense of free use (see also the directive on the harmonization of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society from the year 2001.
One of the main limitations in Germany is the restriction of the term of copyright protection to 70 years after the death of the author (§ 64 UrhG, starting the year after the year of death of the author, § 69 UrhG). § 65 UrhG applies to co-authors, according to which the copyright expires 70 years after the death of the last surviving co-author. The copyright in anonymous and pseudonymous works expires 70 years after their publication; for unpublished works it expires 70 years after their creation (§ 66 UrhG).
The various limitations and exceptions to copyright have different meanings for artists and creatives.
According to § 46 UrhG, the reproduction, distribution, and making accessible of works in a collection for religious, scholarly, or instructional use is permitted but subject to fees. Making a work publicly accessible for instructional use in schools, for example as an illustration in a textbook or the reprint of a play, is only permitted with the consent of the author.
For reporting on current events (through newspapers or other media mainly devoted to current events as well as films), § 50 UrhG allows the reproduction, distribution, and public communication of works.
A daily newspaper publishes an article about a pop concert. Photographs of the show or a short recording may be used for this purpose.
Example 2 reporting:
An exhibition is discussed and presented in an online portal. Images by the artist are also used. In this case, the use and public communication of the images on the Internet are permitted as long as the exhibition can be considered a current event.
§ 51 UrhG regulates the so-called right of quotation, according to which "it shall be permissible to reproduce, distribute and communicate to the public a published work for the purpose of quotation so far as such exploitation is justified to that extent by the particular purpose". This applies, for example, to the quotation of passages from a work after its publication in an independent literary work, provided that it meets certain criteria: A new, independently copyright protected work is created, the passages serve a certain purpose of citation, the cited work becomes the subject of intellectual examination, the passage is identified as a quote, the source is indicated, etc.
Example right of quotation:
For a socio-critical drama, an author has used quotes from various contemporary novels and specialized books. The passages are used to imply conceptual connections that provoke a new perspective. The dialogs contain the source of the respective quotes.
§ 53 UrhG permits individual reproductions for private and, subject to certain limitations, other personal uses (especially scientific or archival).
One crucial limitation is difficult to convey to many users – particularly in the digital environment: The copies may not be distributed or used for public communication. The term personal use is thus narrower than the concept of private copy – also in the context of user-generated content – may suggest. Usage is subject to fees and may be exercised only through a collecting society.
§ 58 UrhG regarding catalog illustrations permits the reproduction, distribution and – since 2003 – also the public communication (making available for download on the Internet) of publicly exhibited works of fine art or works of fine art intended for sale by the organizer for advertising purposes. The end of the event that is being advertised serves as the time limit. In addition, use in the context of digital offline-media (CD-ROM) is also permitted. The reproduction and distribution of the mentioned works are also permitted in directories that are issued by publicly accessible libraries, educational establishments, or museums in connection with an exhibition (with regard to time or content) or for the documentation of collections – i.e. beyond temporary exhibitions – not aimed at independent profit.
According to § 59 UrhG, the right to reproduce works in public places permits reproduction, distribution or public communication of works that are permanently located along public ways, streets, or places – such as works of architecture or sculptures – by means of painting, photography, or film; e.g., to produce and sell postcards. For works of architecture, this provision applies only to their external appearance.
The final report of the Enquete Commission of the German Bundestag on ‘Culture in Germany’ (in German) from the year 2007 offers an inventory of the legal situation in Germany and current discussions regarding copyright issues.