How international copyright law works.

Author:Harris, Lesley Ellen
Position:Copyright corner

If you photocopy an article in the U.S., you apply U.S. copyright law. If you photocopy an article in Canada, you apply Canadian copyright law. Similarly, if you photocopy an article in France, you apply French copyright law. That's the way international copyright law works: You apply the law of the country in which use of the work is made. This is called "national treatment" and is the underlying principle in the leading copyright convention, The Berne Copyright Convention ("Berne").

The Berne Copyright Convention

Berne is found at It is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization ("WIPO"), and it is the oldest copyright convention, originally from 1886, subject to a number of versions. As of September 24, 2004, there are 157 countries that adhere to Berne, including the U.S., Canada, and all European Union countries.

Berne itself is not "the" international copyright law. In fact, there is no single document or legislation that constitutes international copyright law. Rather, it consists of a combination of domestic legal systems, regional and international regimes, and bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements. Berne, like these other legal instruments, provides a minimum standard of copyright protection (allowing appropriate exceptions to copyright as well). Countries that adhere to Berne agree to include this minimum standard in their own domestic copyright statutes, and often go further than the minimum. By including this minimum standard, copyright owners are entitled to this protection in all member countries (as in our opening example), according to the copyright laws in that country.

This so-called international protection is automatic. If you are protected by copyright in your own country, then you are protected by copyright in the other 156 countries that adhere to Berne.

One of the requirements in Berne is that copyright protection is automatic. Once you create a work and it is fixed, it is automatically protected by copyright. That means that a country cannot insist on registration of copyright works in a national copyright office, or use of a copyright symbol. In fact, the U.S. did not join Berne until 1989 because until then copyright was not automatic in the U.S. Canada, for example, has always had automatic copyright protection.

Duration of Protection

Another requirement in Berne is that copyright protection lasts for a minimum of 50 years after the death of the author. Many Berne...

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