Everyone probably recognises the phrase “all rights reserved”. Or “all rights reserved” in English. You often see it on creative works. Think of the last frame of an episode of your favourite series, next to a photo, or at the bottom of an internet blog post. But do you know what it means? In this blog, we take a closer look at the (legal) sense and nonsense of this eye-catching mention in creative works.
Which “rights” are reserved? And from whom?
“All rights reserved” refers to the fact that all copyrights relating to the creation in question belong to the copyright holder.
In copyright law, we do indeed speak of the (copyright) holder..In principle, this is the author of the creation. The author of the creation is in his turn the creator of the creation. So it is not only about writers, but also about photographers, composers, directors … In short, everyone who is creative.
But what are these copyrights? It means quite a lot. In economic terms, it includes the right to reproduce, adapt, communicate to the public, distribute and hire out the creation. Only the copyright holder has these rights, and in principle they last until 70 years after the author’s death.
Origin of “all rights reserved”?
The origin of the phrase “all rights reserved” can be found in the Buenos Aires Convention on Literary and Artistic Copyright of 1910. The Buenos Aires Convention is a treaty between most countries of the American continent.
In this treaty, a rule was needed to make it clear that copyright created locally in one country also applies in another country involved in the treaty. To achieve this, they agreed to impose a formality. This is the obligation to place a statement on the creation “indicating that the copyright is reserved”.
At the time, it was the case that as an American creative, your new creation at least ensures that you enjoy American copyright.
However, if you place a statement such as “all rights reserved” on your creation and then distribute the creation in Brazil, the work will also enjoy copyright protection there (but as regulated by Brazilian national law).
If you do not place such a statement and you distribute it in Brazil anyway, the creation does not enjoy any copyright protection there. This means that people in Brazil can reproduce and adapt your creation to whatever they want. There is nothing you can do about it.
But what about the European Union?
The countries of the European Union are not members of the Buenos Aires Convention. The rules agreed there, therefore, do not apply here in any case. Yet you often see the statement “all rights reserved”.
Is it perhaps obligatory under another treaty to which European Union countries are members? Or is it part of European law? Or is it the countries of the European Union themselves that have regulated this in their national legislation?
To find the answer, we can look at another convention, namely the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The Berne Convention applies to more than 170 countries, including all countries of the European Union.
The Berne Convention provides that creations from one Member State also enjoy copyright protection in all other Member States. And just like the Buenos Aires Convention, this is independent of the protection in the original country. Copyright protection is always as stipulated by the national legislation of the Member State concerned.
However, the Berne Convention is clear: this protection in other Member States than the Member State of origin may not be made subject to any formal requirements. A statement of “all rights reserved” may therefore not be a formal requirement!
By the way, since 2000 all members of the Buenos Aires Convention have also been members of the Berne Convention. For them as well, the mentioning of “all rights reserved” is no longer required!
So why do people use this statement?
The statement “all rights reserved” does not offer any legal protection. But it does provide a transparent and unmistakable warning and deterrent function.
When you see such a statement, you will not copy just like that. After all, it is an obvious reminder that such a thing as copyright exists.
But what if you see “all rights reserved” but do not know exactly what rights are involved or what the statement means? Even then you sense that it is a kind of property rights. This is actually the case: copyright is a kind of property right. And the author who places this statement is simply trying to protect his property (the creation).
It is clear that the use of the statement in this way also (indirectly) contributes to increased awareness of copyright.
And what about other indications, such as the name and/or ©?
The name of the author
The words “all rights reserved” are often accompanied by the name of the author of the creation. In principle, however, this is not compulsory either. It is, however, strongly recommended.
In Belgium (and in several other countries), there is a “presumption of authorship”. This means that if your name is mentioned on a creative work, there is a presumption that you are the author of it, unless someone proves otherwise. If the creation is published anonymously or under a pseudonym, it is the publisher who is presumed to be the author of the creation, also until proven otherwise.
As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, in principle, it is the author who is the copyright holder. It is therefore strongly recommended that you, as the author, put your name on your creation. That way, it is clear that you are in control. No name indication? No problem, but make sure that you have other elements to prove that you are the real author.
Copyright symbol ©
There is also the well-known copyright symbol © This symbol has its origin in the American Copyright Act of 1909.
In the United States, this symbol was once important for obtaining copyright protection. However, like the countries of the European Union, the United States also became a member of the Berne Convention. This eliminated all formal requirements that existed to obtain copyright protection.
Like “all rights reserved”, mentioning the copyright symbol © is therefore only useful to show that the creation in question is protected by copyright. And to discourage others from using it in an unlawful manner.
In the European Union, it is not required or necessary to mention “all rights reserved” when creating a work. Nor is it required to mention the name of the creator, or to include the copyright symbol ©. But that does not mean that these statements are not (or cannot be) important!
For example, both the statement “all rights reserved” and the statement of the copyright symbol © may discourage the public from reproducing or using it in any other unlawful manner. The name of the creator should be mentioned as proof that he/she is the actual author of the creation.
Do you, as a creative, want to protect your property to the maximum and receive recognition for this? Then communicate transparently so that no misunderstandings are possible. And don’t forget to make good arrangements for publication! If you have any questions about this, you can always contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Sofie Moore, Legal Adviser theJurists, Judith Fierens, Legal Adviser theJurists and Kris Seyen, Partner theJurists