Norwegian "special interpretation rule" to transfer copyrights

Subject: Norwegian "special interpretation rule" to transfer copyrights
From: Morlon Carmen (
Date: pe 22 helmi  2002 - 11:50:33 EET

To ECUP-list members,
FYI, from the Legal InfoSoc News Kiosk (The L.i.n.k.).

As a basic rule for solving disputes with regard to transfer of
copyright from the author to other parties, legal doctrine in
Scandinavia has for a long time asserted a "special interpretation
rule". According to this rule, an unclear agreement shall be interpreted
narrowly in favour of the author, who retains all rights not clearly
transferred in the agreement. This principle was endorsed by the
Norwegian Supreme Court in a decision of 27 June 2001.
The case was not strictly speaking about copyright. The defendant was an
artist, who for many years made paintings that were used as models for
the stamps of the Norwegian Postal Company.
The artist had also engraved most of the metal plates used for the
printing of stamps. In the course of such a process, a number of "test
prints" are taken before the stamp production actually commences.
The dispute concerned the period from 1985-1994 in which the artist
worked as an independent contractor for the Postal Company. He did not
dispute the ownership rights to the originals. The question brought
before the Supreme Court was whether the artist or the Postal Company
had the property rights to the test prints.
The Supreme Court decided in favour of the artist. First, the Supreme
Court stated that the engraving constituted an exercise of the artist's
copyright, as he had created the original paintings on which the
engravings and prints were based.
The court also stated that nothing had been said concerning property
rights to the test prints when the artist was commissioned to do the
job. Furthermore, the Court found that the Postal Company had shown
little interest in the prints while the work was being carried out.
This had given the artist reasonable grounds for believing that he owned
the test prints. It also indicated that the Postal Company had, for a
long time, "no clear opinion on the question of property rights to the
test prints".
The Court added that the agreement between the artist and the Postal
Company had to be interpreted in favour of the artist on basis of the
"special interpretation rule": "It follows from this rule (...) that
when an author has transferred the rights to use the work in a specific
way or by specific means, the purchaser has no right to use it in other
ways or by other means. The rule has been understood to mean that the
purchaser obtains the rights that follow directly from the agreement,
but that the author maintains the other rights (...). This means that
unclear agreements are interpreted narrowly in the favour of the
The ruling gave the "special interpretation rule" a solid legal basis in
Norwegian case law. This means that principals wishing to exploit
copyright protected material, must be careful to define in their
agreements with the author what rights they wish to exercise. For
further information contact: or

Carmen Morlon
EU Information Officer
PO BOX 43300
NL-2504 AH The Hague
The Netherlands
Tel.: +31 70 309 06 08
Fax: +31 70 309 07 08
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