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Sources Of Copyright Law: The Berne Convention

A contract about to be signed

An introduction ...

Despite copyright being territorial in nature, with rights only being granted to a particular territory, the UK’s intellectual property laws are influenced and shaped by a number of different sources …
This is due to international and regional harmonisation in an attempt to come to a more synchronised and uniform approach to intellectual property. Many sources of law could be discussed, but an important one is the Berne Convention of the Protections Liberty and Artistic Works 1886, commonly known just as the Berne Convention.

The Berne Convention is important as it was the first multilateral treaty on copyright law!

A treaty is a contract/agreement between international countries and law. The UK is a signatory to the Berne Convention, in fact, they were one of the first to do so, along with France and Germany. Membership to this treaty has rapidly grown, and as of September 2020, has 179 signatories.
The Berne Convention is centred around the protection of authors works; it aims to give a minimum level of protection that should be granted and three foundational principles that should be adhered to by states signed up to the convention.

Article 5 is about the minimum protection that would be afforded to authors: it states that where works are created in a contracting state, other than the author’s country of origin, that author is to be granted the same level of protection as the nationals of that contracting state.

This is very useful as most countries national law will state that in order for your work to be protected under their copyright law, you must be a national of their country. The Berne Convention will circumvent this and allow you protection in another state, so long as your national country is a signatory to the Berne Convention.
This is called the principle of national treatment and put simply means: Country A is obliged to confer to same rights on an author from Country B, as it would its nationals.

This protection must be automatic and not be subject to any formalities.

You also have a set of minimum rights that the Berne Convention grants including economic rights and other exclusive rights outside the scope of economics. The duration of this protection is 50 years after the author’s own death.

It is important to note that in a contracting state where the protection is longer than 50 years, and it subsequently expires in the country of origin, other contracting states have the right to reject the right to protection after the Berne Convention’s 50 years term.

Remember that all of these rules have exceptions or additional conditions, but they are far too long to put into one blog post.

Until next time …

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