Printer working an early Gutenberg letter press from the 15th century. (engraving date unknown)

The word publication means the act of publishing, i.e. distributing information to the public, and also refers to any copies printed for public distribution. While specific use of the term may vary among countries, it is usually applied to text, images, or other audio-visual content on any traditional medium, including paper (newspapers, magazines, Mail-order catalogs, etc.). As an author of a work generally is the initial owner of the copyright on the work, one of the copyrights granted to the author of a work is the exclusive right to publish the work.

"Publication" is a technical term in legal contexts and especially important in copyright law. The time of initial publication of a work plays an important part in the copyright legislation of many countries, as it is often used as the starting point of copyright protection. Contrary to what one might think, in many countries, as in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere, mere presentation, exhibition or performance of a work to the public does not by itself constitute publication.

In some countries (primarily in Europe), when the work has not been published during the author's life (in EU: during the copyright term), whoever discovers and publishes it might gain rights similar to those of an author (called publication rights).

United States

In the United States, publication is defined as:

the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.[1]
To perform or display a work "publicly" means –
(1) to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or
(2) to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.
17 USC 101

Furthermore, the right to publish a work is an exclusive right of the copyright owner (17 USC 106), and violating this right (e.g. by disseminating copies of the work without the copyright owner's consent) is a copyright infringement (17 USC 501(a)), and the copyright owner can demand (by suing in court) that e.g. copies distributed against his will be confiscated and destroyed (17 USC 502, 17 USC 503).

See also Commons:Public art and copyrights in the US

The definition of "publication" as "distribution of copies to the general public with the consent of the author" is also supported by the Berne Convention, which makes mention of "copies" in article 3(3), where "published works" are defined.[2] In the Universal Copyright Convention, "publication" is defined in article VI as "the reproduction in tangible form and the general distribution to the public of copies of a work from which it can be read or otherwise visually perceived."[3] Many countries around the world follow this definition, although some make some exceptions for particular kinds of works.

Other countries

Australia and the UK

Australia and the UK (as the U.S.) generally require the distribution of copies necessary for publication. In the case of sculptures, the copies must be even three-dimensional.[4][5]


§2.2 of the Copyright Act defines publication as, in relation to works, making copies of a work available to the public, the construction of an architectural work, the incorporation of an artistic work into an architectural work; in relation to sound recordings, it is defined as making copies of a sound recording available to the public. "Publication" does not include the performance in public, or the communication to the public by telecommunication, of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work or a sound recording, or the exhibition in public of an artistic work. The issue of photographs and engravings of sculptures and architectural works is not deemed to be publication of those works.[6]


In Germany, §6 of the Urheberrechtsgesetz additionally considers works of the visual arts (such as sculptures) "published" if they have been made permanently accessible by the general public (i.e., erecting a sculpture on public grounds is publication in Germany).[7]


In Greece, per article 4 of law 2121/93, "publication" is defined as making the work accessible to the public. Throughout the law, "lawful publication" and "making accessible/communicating to the public for the first time" are used side by side, and both instances serve as a starting point for the copyright holder's rights of audiovisual, phonographic, previously unpublished etc. works.[8]


In India, the Indian copyright law applies the following definition to the term of publication: 3. Meaning of publication. 34 For the purposes of this Act, "publication" means making a work available to the public by issue of copies or by communicating the work to the public.[9]


Two distinct terms are used in Russia, one named in article 1268 of the Civil Code (publication of a creative work — «обнародование»), and the other one named in article 3 of the Museum Law № 54-FZ (publication of a museum object — «публикация»).[10]

See also

References and notes

  1. The definition of publication was different before 1978. Only putting something in a public place, which could allow people to copy it, was necessary for publication. See Commons:Public_art_and_copyrights_in_the_US#Before_1978.
  2. Berne Convention, article 3(3). URL last accessed 2012-08-29.
  3. Universal Copyright Convention, Gevena text (1952), article VI. URL last accessed 2012-08-29.
  4. Australian Copyright Act, section 29: Publication. URL last accessed 2012-08-29.
  5. Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (c. 48), section 175, Copyright law of the United Kingdom. URL last accessed 2012-08-29.
  6. Canadian Copyright Act, §2.2, URL last accessed 2016-04-24.
  7. German UrhG, §6, in German. URL last accessed 2012-08-29.
  8. Greek copyright law, URL last accessed 2012-08-29.
  9. Indian copyright law, URL last accessed 2012-08-29
  10. Закон о музейном фонде Российской Федерации и музеях в Российской Федерации, статья 36
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