Can you renounce to your copyright over a work?

This simple question is the basis of a study undertaken by Yours Truly for WIPO. Most people I’ve asked the question tend to answer “of course!” It’s your work after all, and you can do anything you want with things you own, even if it is to relinquish the rights that you have over them. The answer however is decidedly more complex, as this is not a harmonised issue. In the study we look at several jurisdictions around the world, and discover that with a few exceptions, the question is not dealt with in any detail by national copyright law. Of the countries studied, these were the results:

Country Allows voluntary relinquishment? Can moral rights be waived?
Brazil Unclear No
Chile Yes No
China Unclear No
Colombia Yes No
Egypt Unclear No
France Unclear No
India Yes Unclear
Kenya Yes No
Republic of Korea Unclear No

While most jurisdictions studied do not allow moral rights to be waived. which is typical of civil law systems, the studied jurisdictions either did not dealt with the subject at all, or they allowed copyright waivers.

So licensing solutions such as CC0 might be the way to go. The report comments:

“The final section of the report deals with practical issues of copyright relinquishment. Given the unclear legal situation surrounding renouncement, authors interested in making some form of dedication into the public domain may prefer to bypass this uncertainty and choose a licensing option that has similar effects to those that would have taken place if the work’s copyright protection had expired. This can be achieved through the use of open licensing schemes. Two licensing suites are explored in more detail, namely Creative Commons Zero (CC0) and the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License. Both of these fulfill a dual function. First, they both outright dedicate the work to the public domain. Second, they contain fallback clauses in case it is not possible to relinquish copyright. These clauses grant a license for the work that has the same effect as if the work had been placed in the public domain.

The report ends by listing several examples of copyright relinquishment which usually come from public institutions placing data and some works in the public domain, mostly through the public domain dedication contained in CC0.

The report concludes that while the legal issues surrounding public domain dedications remain clouded, licensing solutions such as Creative Commons (CC) produce a situation in which such questions are less important. The result is that works can be shared freely with others, which for all practical purposes is similar to what would occur if the author had successfully dedicated the work to the public domain.”

I hope you enjoy the report.

1 Comment


Mathias Klang · April 24, 2014 at 6:11 am

Thanks Andres! This was very useful.

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