Who owns the fruits of the work


Who owns the fruits of the work

The dispute over the creative achievements of the employees

It is the classic case of employee copyright: the employee performs creatively and sooner or later changes jobs. Now the question arises of who owns the rights to this service – the employer or the employee.

In some countries, inventions made in connection with the work are, or are automatically, transferred to the employer on a flat-rate basis. Argument: The employee is finally paid for his work.

In the world, however, this only applies to manufactured objects. Otherwise, it is exactly the other way round, the worker is considered the author, the creator and thus holds the rights in principle. For a company, this poses a huge economic problem if it wants to fully exploit copyrights. The employee understandably has an interest in being adequately involved in the economic success of his services.

For such cases, German copyright law has – at first glance always appropriate – statutory provisions. However, not all cases are covered by Copyright Act. It merely stipulates that in the absence of an agreement, the employer is granted the rights of use for those creative services that were performed in fulfillment of the duty to work. However, what happens with those creative achievements that do not arise in fulfillment of the actual work obligation is not there.

Problems therefore occur in the following cases:

An employee is employed as a warehouse worker. He is now instructed by his employer to change or re-design the company slogan or logo. The employer is enthusiastic about the result and takes over the promising idea. In this case, the contract of employment agreement and the service rendered differ significantly, so that the employee may demand a reasonable special payment or even an increased permanent remuneration despite the provision if the entrepreneur generates enormously high profits through this creative achievement.


Exception: computer programs

If an employee creates a computer program and this is also his contractual duty, the rights automatically pass to the employer. All rights are then settled with the paid wages.

What rights are now to the entrepreneur?

To answer this question, a few points must be noted in advance:

  • What is in the employment contract or possibly in the collective agreement?
  • Was the service provided contractually agreed?
  • Was it provided on a private basis or on the premises of the employer?
  • Were employer’s work equipment used?
  • Is it possibly special regulations, such. to computer programs?




If an employer wants to avoid the described conflicts, clear arrangements must be made in advance that meet the legal requirements. This can be done, for example, directly in the employment contract. This is especially important for companies that want to live on the creative ideas of their employees and later market these ideas. If there are fair and compensatory regulations, a later legal dispute with high follow-up costs can be avoided.