If you are an artist or a creator who has copyright protections over your work in the United States at some point or another, you may start wondering whether or not your U.S. copyright projections would be valid in other countries as well. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Copyright Office there is no such thing as an “international copyright protection” that automatically protects a creator’s work overseas. U.S. copyright laws, specifically the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, can only be enforced territorially. This means that if you register your copyright in the United States, an individual or entity who infringes upon your copyrights can be held liable so long as the infringement takes place somewhere in the United States.
While U.S. copyright laws don’t have any international power, you are not totally out of luck when it comes to protecting your work. Let’s take a look at what protections are in place for creative individuals who want to have as much control over their copyrights as possible.
International copyright treaties
While there isn’t any formal type of international copyright law in place, there are some other avenues and protections that will help keep your work from being infringed upon. Depending on the country and your copyrights, you typically will have a good chance of being able to protect your U.S. copyrights in other countries. There are several national copyright protection guidelines and loose frameworks that are designed to help people protect their work both in the country they are claiming the copyright in and internationally. These national copyright protections are offered through a variety of national treaties and conventions. They offer individuals with works that are eligible for copyright protection against international unauthorized use of their work outside of their country. Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent treaties.
Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
One of the most important copyright protection treaties is the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literacy and Artistics Work. The members of this International treaty include some of the most influential countries in the world. The United States acceded to this treaty in 1989, China acceded soon after in 1992, and Russia joined in 1995. Today, all the influential countries of the world adhere to this treaty and the copyright protections it offers to residents of the members’ countries.
The main characteristic of the Berne convention is that all member nations under this treaty cannot impose the “formalities” for copyright protections on foreign nationals the way it does on people who belong to that member’s nations. For example, in America, if an individual wants to pursue legal action for a copyright infringement claim, they must have their copyright registered with the U.S. Copyright Office first. This “formality” is not allowed to be imposed on someone else from another country that belongs to the Berne Convention. So take a Russian individual, for example, if they want to pursue legal action on copyright infringement against someone in the United States, the Russian national does not have to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office beforehand in order to do so.
Another major guideline of the Berne Convention is the concept of a “minimum standard” and “national treatment”. The minimum standard is used to describe the baseline that nations must provide copyright infringement claimants from other countries. With that minimum standard, nations under the convention agreed that they will offer nationals of the other member countries the copyright protections that a national in that country would enjoy. In a general sense, anyone who lives in a nation that belongs to the Berne Convention will have their copyrights protected under that nation’s copyright laws.
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty
The WIPO Copyright Treaty is another key treaty in protecting your copyrights, however, this treaty is unique in that its main focus is on works and the rights of authors who create in “digital environments”. The WIPO Copyright Treaty Is an agreement that falls under the Berne convention and offers additional protections that the Berne Convention could not offer alone. Under the WIPO Copyright Treaty, computer programs are identified as literary works and are offered copyright protections. Compilation research and data in the form of databases are also protected. An author also has the ability to control the rental and distribution of their works in other countries, a right that is not offered under the Berne Convention protections. Lastly, one of the main protections under this treaty is that it allows authors to have economic rights over their work. This means that authors who create in one country can seek financial gains in another country where the violation of their copyrights is taking place.
Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
One of the most straightforward, yet comprehensive international treaties that ensures your copyrights don’t get violated is the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This treaty applies to all member nations that belong to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Under this treaty, members of the WTO are required to provide copyright protection for everyone in the member nations. Not only are the copyright protections recognized, but they are enforced. TRIPS not only protects copyrights, but it stipulates that all intellectual property rights are enforced (property rights such as trademarks and patents) some of the key stipulations under TRIPS include the following:
- Copyright protections are offered automatically and are not required to be registered in any formal manner.
- Copyright protections are extended at least 50 years.
- Patents are recognized and granted for inventions especially in the technology field.
- Computer programs are looked at as “literary works” and receive the same protections as literary works.
- Member nations are not allowed to grant special rights, incentives, or benefits, to their citizens that are not offered to the other citizens of member nations.
Countries with No Copyright Protections
While there is a rather solid platform in place for copyright protections to take place internationally, there is still room for copyright violations to take place without any recourse. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, there are still several countries including San Marino, Eritrea, and Turkmenistan that offer no copyright protection for either its authors or foreign workers who live inside the country. There are also other countries including Somalia and Principe, where it is unclear whether or not any copyright protections exist at all. It’s not clear whether or not this will change sometime in the near future.
A violation of copyrights is, unfortunately, one of the most frustrating things any author, artist or creative individual has to deal with. The good news is that for the most part, the developed nations in which copyright infringement would likely take place adhere to several national treaties and conventions that protect against that from happening.