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Navigating copyright protection for photographs in Italy

Under the Italian Copyright Law, photographic works are classified into three distinct categories based on the level of copyright or related right protection that is applied. Consequently, it is crucial to properly identify each category to easily determine whether a photograph is eligible for copyright or minor related-right protection, or whether it cannot be protected at all.

Photographic works, deemed artistic creations, receive full copyright protection, akin to other literary and artistic works, due to the element of “creativity” involved. Copyright protection for photographic works encompasses both moral and economic rights, as outlined in Articles 12-19 of Italian Copyright Law (Law 633/41). The economic rights for reproduction, distribution, and public display, granted to the author, persist throughout the author’s lifetime and for 70 years after their death. Moreover, authors enjoy the inalienable rights to: i) claim authorship, or be identified as authors; (ii) object to or prevent their modification; (iii) withdraw the photographs from circulation or control their publication and distribution.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, photographs serving a mere reproductive-documentary purpose are completely excluded from any form of protection. These are photographs capturing writings, documents, business papers, tangible objects, technical drawings, and similar items.

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