Copyrights & Reuse

German Copyright Law

The "Act on Copyright and Related Rights" is the most important national compilation of legal regulations on copyright in Germany. It defines which works are considered worthy of protection, which rights and obligations authors and exploiters have and how claims arising from copyright infringements are settled.

The copyright law came into force on 01.01.1966 and is in force to this day. Since then, there have been various additions which take into account the progressive technical development. For example, copyright protection for software and special protection for databases were introduced in the 1990s.

In 2003 and 2008, more extensive copyright reforms (First and Second Basket) followed, aimed at harmonising the protection of intellectual property in Europe and thus making international copyright law possible. A further addition called for by scientific organisations was the secondary publication right, which was launched by the German Parliament in 2013 together with regulations on orphan works.

On 01.03.2018 the "Gesetz zur Angleichung des Urheberrechts an die aktuellen Erfordernisse der Wissensgesellschaft" (Law on the Approximation of Copyright Law to the Current Requirements of the Knowledge Society) (in short also: Urheberrechts-Wissensgesellschafts-Gesetz, UrhWissG) came into force. In particular, this regulates which rights and obligations of use are legally permitted in the field of education and science without the need to obtain the prior consent of the author or third party rights holder.

Licensing Models

Under certain circumstances, the author of a work may wish to grant a more extensive re-use of his work (especially in the case of electronic publications) than the limits of the Copyright Act permit. Increasingly, this is also being insisted on in the conditions for project funding.

In order not to have to grant each interested party their own rights of use, it is possible to grant rights of use for an indefinite number of persons by means of standardised contracts, the Open Content licences. This enables a high degree of visibility, distribution and subsequent use of the work concerned.

An overview of open content licenses can be found on

The following standardised models are frequently used in science and research:

The non-profit organisation Creative Commons offers authors or creators of legally protected works an easy way to release their work for re-use through predefined license agreements.

There are four license elements available, from which six different standard license agreements can arise depending on their composition. These allow authors to grant others permission to copy, distribute, publish, digitise or convert (to another file format) the legally protected works. The conditions for use and distribution are decided by the authors themselves when the corresponding license is granted.

An overview of the different CC licenses you can find here:

More Information

Kreutzer, Till (2014): Open Content. A practical Guide to using Creative Commons Licences

Mudrak, Ben: Creative Commons Licenses. An Introduction for Researchers

In contrast to CC licenses, the Digital Peer Publishing model is based on German copyright law. It is used exclusively for text publications.

The DPPL offers three modules to be chosen: the basic module (allows the electronic distribution of the unchanged work), the modular license for individual (text) passages (allows changes to passages) and the free license for the entire work (allows changes to the complete work).

Unlike the CC licences, the DPPL does not distinguish between commercial and non-commercial re-use. The distribution in physical form is reserved to the author of the work, users of the legally protected work may only pass it on in electronic form.

Weitere Informationen Open Content Licences

The GPL is a license for software products just as computer programs. With the help of the GPL, anyone is permitted to use, reproduce, distribute, make publicly accessible and modify the software without licence fees. At the same time, the source code of the software must be published in order to make changes possible.

Modified versions of GPL licensed software should be published under the General Public License as well and the source code has to be disclosed. Moreover there are further obligations resulting from the GPL: Delivery of the license text with each software version, copyright notice with the name of the copyright holder, reference to the disclaimer (even if not effective under German law) and the prohibition of additional obligations.

More Information

Free Software Foundation (2007): GNU General Public License

Institute for Legal Questions on Free and Open Source Software (ifross): What is the GPL?

Our Recommendation


Extract from the "Guidelines for Scientific Publications" at the GFZ:


5. Documentation and Further Publications

(3) GFZ electronic publications are freely accessible under a Creative Commons Licence. A corresponding note is to be included in the files. The Creative Commons Licence should embrace the following standards:  

a) Citation, name of the work, i.e. citation of the work, in accordance with good scientific practice.


Re-use of Texts or Figures from other Publications

When integrating texts or figures from other publications rights should be clarified with publishers as copyright holders in advance, as in most cases all rights have been assigned from the authors to the publisher. Publishers deal with these rights in different ways and in most cases you will find what you are looking for under "Permissions".

There are publishers, for example, who allow re-use of illustrations on a blanket basis within a certain framework (examples: Seismological Society of America, AGU), while other publishers expect demand and often provide forms for this purpose. Usually all rights holders naturally expect a correct quote of the publication in which the illustration was originally included.

Some publishers cooperate with the Copyright Clearance Center (Rightslink) to manage copyright requests (for example Elsevier, Springer). In those cases please turn to the library, as we are registered at CCC.

Cumulative Dissertations

Please be aware that for cumulative dissertations you should clarify the rights to publish articles in advance, in order to avoid legal problems later when publishing the dissertation.

Included articles may have to be released by the publisher before it is allowed to include them in a dissertation, as preprints are not permitted by every publisher.

However, other publishers also give a general permission for this type of subsequent use.

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