User manuals are protected by copyright

Under what conditions are works of language that serve a specific purpose protected by copyright? - The question keeps the courts busy again and again. In a current decision, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court affirmed the quality of an instruction manual for a lifting platform. Due to the linguistic representation, the concise arrangement and the partial highlighting of references, the disputed utility text reached the required level of creation (OLG Frankfurt, ruling of May 26, 2015; Az .: 11 U 18/14).


General terms and conditions, recipes or - as in the present case - operating instructions have one thing in common: They serve a purpose. Thanks to modern technical functions such as “copy and paste”, however, it is easier than ever to copy such usage texts from others. Right holders try to counteract this by asserting copyright claims. However, the jurisprudence places higher demands on the copyright protectability of utility texts than in the case of non-purpose language works. It is necessary to clearly exceed the average. As a justification, it is stated that the form of expression for texts with a purpose is already largely determined by the respective specialist topic and its technical language.


The Higher Regional Court initially correctly assigns the operating instructions to the language works in accordance with Section 2 (1) No. 1 UrhG, for which only low requirements apply to the level of design. However, since the operating instructions serve a specific purpose, the Senate, referring to the constant case law of the BGH, demands "a clear superiority to the everyday " (BGH, judgment of 10.10.1991 - Az .: I ZR 147/89). However, these requirements are met in the case of these operating instructions. The length of the operating instructions creates space for creative work and the plaintiff has made sufficient use of this creative freedom. The selected order of the various individual topics follows a structure that supports the intended understanding of the topic. The linguistic representation of individual rubrics also convinced the court. Furthermore, the tabular representation, which ensures clarity and comprehensibility, speaks for the protectability of the operating instructions. The photographs contained in the operating instructions are subject to copyright protection in accordance with Section 72 (1).


While the result of the decision definitely deserves approval, the court's statements on the protection requirements for utility texts are only partially convincing. Especially against the background of the lowering of the lower limit of protection for works of applied art in the decision “Birthday Train” (BGH, ruling of 13.11.2013 - Az .: I ZR 143/12), a critical examination of the previous case law on the work category would be the usage texts have been quite desirable. In the case of websites or user interfaces in particular, the transition between works of applied art and utility texts is fluid. In addition, the subsequent decision of the Schleswig-Holstein Higher Regional Court in the "birthday train" case has shown that the lowering of the protection requirements does not lead to an endless expansion of copyright protection (OLG Schleswig, ruling of 11.09.2014 - Az .: 6 U 74/10 , see also blog entry from September 26, 2014). A uniformly low lower limit for all types of work would therefore not only be more practical but also appropriate.