Will Your Work of Writing or Art Receive International Copyright Protection?

Your work can be protected in 120 countries

As the world becomes increasingly globalized, authors and artists need to be mindful of their international intellectual property protection. Domestic copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office gives authors certain exclusive rights in America. But what about other countries? Over 120 nations have signed treaties in which they agree to extend reciprocal copyright protection to works authored by nationals of the other signatory countries as well as works first published in one of the other signing countries. This reciprocal approach is commonly called “national treatment.”

The two main copyright treaties are the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention (U.C.C.), both of which the United States has signed. To the extent the provisions of these two treaties overlap, the author is entitled to the most liberal protection available, which is usually found in the Berne Convention.

General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

Most countries of the world have ratified the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade ("GATT"), which binds them to comply with the provisions of the Berne Convention (except for its moral rights provision) whether or not they are already members. The GATT treaty makes the Berne Convention by far the most important international copyright treaty. Over the past several decades, the U.C.C. has played an increasingly minor role in international copyright protection and litigation.

Berne Convention

Besides establishing reciprocal protection rights, the Berne Convention also establishes the minimum protections that must be afforded and specifies that no formalities—such as copyright notice—are required for gaining such protection.

The Berne Convention does not impose on any country a definition of what can and cannot be copyrighted, but virtually all of the signatory countries (and GATT members) will fully protect such traditional items as books, art works, movies, and plays.

In addition, GATT requires that all members treat computer programs as literary works under the Berne Convention. Not surprisingly, this is increasingly important for technology companies that obtain copyright on software, website code, and mobile apps.

Placing a Notice on Copyrighted Work

Authors seeking to invoke international protection under the Berne Convention (authors in the U.S. and in most large industrialized nations, including all nations that ratify the GATT treaty) need not apply any copyright notice to their works. In other words, you do not need to include the "©" symbol. Like in American law, copyright protection is automatic. However, it may be a smart idea to include that symbol to scare off potential infringers.

Authors seeking to invoke international copyright protection under the Universal Copyright Convention (the relatively few countries that have not signed the Berne Convention or the GATT) must use the following notice: “ © (year of publication) (author or other basic copyright owner).” For example, the correct U.C.C. notice for this article would be: “© 2017 Nolo."

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