Copyright is the right of the creator of a work (photo, film, visual art, literature, etc.) to determine how, where and when this work is published and reproduced. The act of creating his or her own, original work automatically confers this right on the creator; it does not need to be requested or registered. In the Netherlands, copyright falls under the scope of intellectual property law.

Copyright consists of the following components:

  1. Publication: the exclusive right to make the work public. This entails making it accessible to the public by exhibiting it, placing it in a magazine, using it on a website, etc.
  2. Reproduction: the exclusive right to reproduce the work. This refers to copying, printing or reprinting a work, including photocopying and scanning. It also covers editing and translation.
  3. Personality rights: the right to be credited when the work is published, and to object to damage or misuse of the work.

The first two rights can be sold or transferred. Often, the creator cannot invoke these rights for work he or she creates as an employee. The third right remains valid in perpetuity and belongs to the creator personally, even if he or she has transferred the rights to publication and reproduction.

Always be aware of copyright. In the Netherlands, deliberate infringement of copyright is a criminal offense.

Copyright in photography

In photography, the copyright often remains with the photographer. The client or user pays only for the right to use the photos. This right may or may not be exclusive (i.e. granted to the client only), and may cover a certain period of time or certain purposes.

Maastricht University (UM) has agreed with all its preferred-supplier photographers that all photos commissioned by the university may be used exclusively and at all times for all on- and offline UM communication media, without additional costs. The photographer may only charge an additional fee if the university makes a photo available to a third (non-UM) party. This fee amounts to €50 per photo per publication.

In some cases, it may make sense to purchase all (copy)rights to one or more photos taken by the photographer; for example, photos of an important corporate event where we expect many press requests for the photos taken. Purchasing all rights is typically much more expensive than buying the right of use alone.

It is a common misconception that photos on the internet or social media can simply be used or copied because the internet ‘belongs to everyone’ and sharing is a basic principle of social media. Nothing could be further from the truth: almost all photography and video material on the internet is protected by copyright. Use of images without permission can lead to criminal prosecution and claims for compensation.

Many people view the increasingly stringent legislation surrounding copyright as an obstacle to the free movement of information and images. This is why movements have emerged in recent years aiming to take a different approach to copyright. Examples include:

  • Creative Commons, a system of individual licenses where creators can easily indicate what may and may not be done with their work.
  • Wikimedia, an organisation committed to the free use and sharing of images.
  • Bits of Freedom, a Dutch organisation that advocates for civil rights, an open internet and freedom of expression.

Copyright law is complex and has many grey areas and exceptions. If you have any questions about copyright law in relation to photography and visual material, please contact the central image editor ( or the Legal Affairs Department (MUO).