Copyright protects works of literature and art that have individual character (so-called intellectual creations). The protection afforded by copyright extends to literature, music, images, sculptures, films, operas, ballets, and pantomime. Also protected by copyright are computer programmes. Copyright also comprises related intellectual property rights, like the right of performing artists in and to their performances (actors, musicians), the right of record and video-music manufacturers in and to their products, and the right of broadcasting companies in and to their radio and television broadcasts.

Under copyright law, the author has the exclusive right to determine whether, when, and how his or her work may be used. In particular, this covers the reproduction, translation, processing, dissemination, sale, performance, and broadcasting of his or her work. However, published works may be used for personal use, i.e. privately or in a circle of closely affiliated persons. By contrast, with computer programmes, a licence must be obtained for each use.

Copyright protection of a work is independent of registration or submission to a register. It arises automatically upon creation of a work. Furthermore, in Switzerland copyright notices (©), for instance, have no influence on the existence of copyright protection (this differs in part from other countries). Copyright protection in Switzerland expires 70 years after the death of the author. With computer programmes, protection expires 50 years after the death of the author. The same applies to related intellectual property rights, whereby the date of performance, publication, or broadcast is controlling here. The right to be designated as an interpreter ends upon death, but not earlier than 50 years after the performance.

Copyright is dealt with in the Federal Act on Copyright and Neighbouring Rights (Bundesgesetz über das Urheberrecht und verwandte Schutzrechte, URG) To be taken into account on the international level are, in particular, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).