The summary below is provided for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. Any specific question about copyright law should be directed to an attorney in our Copyright Practice Group.
There is no international law of copyright, and each country has its own copyright laws which may differ greatly from one to another. However, two international treaties prescribe minimum standards for member countries and require each country to provide “national treatment” to citizens of other member countries. These treaties, the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, have been signed by over 100 countries, including the United States and most of the other industrialized countries in the world. The number of countries that adhere to the provisions of these treaties is likely to grow, as countries that wish to sign the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) treaty must also agree to abide by the terms of the Berne Convention.
The UCC and Berne Convention provide certain minimum copyright protection in the member countries, such as the protection of literary works and a duration of copyright for a term consisting of the life of the author plus 50 years. Many countries differ in their interpretation of copyrightable subject matter and the elements of infringement, however, and some countries provide additional protections beyond what is required by the UCC and Berne Convention. If a citizen of the United States believes that his or her copyrights are being infringed abroad, we can refer him or her to competent legal counsel in the country where the infringement is occurring so that he or she can proceed under the laws of that country. Under the “national treatment” provisions of the UCC and Berne Convention, member countries must afford the same copyright protection to the works of U.S. citizens that is available to the works of its own citizens. We have a network of foreign associates around the world who are available to assist our clients protect and enforce their copyrights abroad.
The U.S. Copyright Office publishes circulars concerning international copyright protection, and other topics. These can be obtained by calling the Copyright Office at (202) 707-3000 or by visiting the Copyright Office’s home page. For information on international copyright protection, including an alphabetical list of countries that have joined the UCC and Berne Convention, request Circular 38a.