International Copyright Law: How to Protect Your Creative Works Across Borders

There is actually no concept of international copyright law. Copyright law protects the authors who have created a work and provides ownership to their works. It protects them from unauthorized use of their content, either by someone else or by some websites on the internet.

Hence, for such protection, every country has its own copyright laws, which apply to its citizens and also to the usage of foreign content when used in a person’s own country. The domestic gives permission to enjoy copyright protection in other countries other than their own. Such benefits are given to the creator, the owners of the content across the globe, and the citizens of many countries.

Therefore, what happens if there is an international copyright issue? What law will be applicable? What about Indian content owners having international copyright issues? All such questions are answered in this blog.

International Copyright

Let’s first understand what international copyright is. It is a term that protects an author’s work across the globe. Depending on the national laws of a specific nation, protection is provided against unauthorized usage in that nation.

Moreover, many nations also give protection to foreign works under particular guidelines that have been streamlined by international copyright conventions and treaties. In order to protect the creators or owners of the work that is covered by foreign copyright beyond national boundaries, the International Copyright Order was formed in 1999.

International Copyright Law

As mentioned above, there is no concept of international copyright law. The scope and applicability of the law of copyright are territorial and regional in nature. However, for the protection of foreign copyright owners, a number of international copyright treaties and conventions have been made that provide the process for obtaining protection.

International Copyright Issues

With the high usage of the internet in today’s world, the issues of copyright have increased simultaneously. There are various copyright issues around the world, and sometimes the copyright issue does not limit itself to one’s own country but crosses the nation’s border and becomes an international copyright issue. There are many examples of how such an issue can arise; a few of them are:

  • A person using content from outside his country; or
  • A person has posted his photo on a social media platform, and another person from a different country accesses his photo.

Treaties and Conventions

For the protection of copyright internationally, there are some treaties and conventions that act as a savior to anyone who wants to protect their work around the world. There are mainly five treaties to which India is a signatory, namely:

  1. The Berne Convention
  2. Universal Copyright Convention
  3. Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement
  4. WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT)
  5. Rome Convention

1 – The Berne Convention

The Berne Convention was adopted in 1886 for the protection of the original works and the rights of the authors or owners. The Convention protects authors, musicians, poets, painters, etc. Therefore, this Convention protects literary and artistic works by controlling how they are to be used, by whom, and on what terms.

It is based on three fundamental principles and contains a series of provisions for the determination of the minimum protection that is to be granted and special provisions that are available to developing countries.

The three fundamental principles are:

  1. Principle of National Treatment: It requires the member countries to give the citizens of other member countries the same rights that they have under the copyright law and that they give to their citizens. For example, a novel written in India shall be protected in other countries as it is protected in India.
  2. Principle of Independence of Protection: According to this principle, every member country should give the same protection to foreign works as they give it to their domestic works. Even if the works are not protected under the copyright laws of their home country, For example, if a novel is written in India and Indian copyright law does not provide protection for it, it should still be protected by copyright laws in other countries.
  3. Principle of Automatic Protection: According to this principle, the member countries are forbidden from requiring persons from other Berne Convention member countries to undergo the legal formalities as a mandatory requirement for copyright protection. For example, a novel written in India does not require registration for copyright in other member countries of the Berne Convention.

2 – Universal Copyright Convention (UCC)

The UCC was adopted and developed by UNESCO in 1952. It is an alternative to the Berne Convention. It also provides copyright protection to those countries that have not joined the Berne Convention.

Being more flexible than the Berne Convention, it accommodates countries that are at different levels of development or that have different economic and social methods. UCC has also adopted the two fundamental principles, i.e., the principle of national treatment and the principle of automatic protection. However, it states lesser requirements that member countries have to follow.

3 – Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS)

In 1994, TRIPS was an international agreement that was administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO). It established the minimal standards for many types of intellectual property protection in the member countries of the WTO. The main provision in this is that it requires remedial solutions.

There are not many differences between the TRIPS and the Berne Convention. However, there are two major differences between these: the TRIPS Agreement requires the member countries to grant protection to computer programs and databases, and this protection is not present in the Berne Convention.

Secondly, the TRIPS Agreement does not protect the author’s moral rights, which the Berne Convention protects. TRIPS requires the member countries to give effective penalties in cases of copyright violations, and it also provides a dispute resolution mechanism.

4 – WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT)

In this digital age, the reproduction and distribution of works have changed. The sound recording, photographs, and articles are not stored in electronic formats and are circulated by the internet. Due to this widespread use of the internet and technology, it gave rise to more copyright infringement cases. Hence, the governments of the developed countries secured two treaties, namely the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

Under the Berne Convention, WCT is a special agreement that came into force in 2002, and it is the foremost treaty that requires the counties to give copyright protection to computer programs and databases. It also prohibits the members from circumventing the technologies set by the owners of the copyright for the prevention of copying and distribution of their works.

5 – Rome Convention (1961)

As the Berne Convention only protected printed works and not technologies, the Rome Convention was adopted in 1961 by the WIPO members for the protection of performers, producers of phonograms, and broadcasting organizations. This Convention provides protection from the author of a work to the creators or producers of a specific work, which are in audiocassettes, CDs, and DVDs.

The Convention requires the member countries to give protection to the works of :

  • Performers;
  • Producers of phonographs;
  • Broadcasting organizations.

It also gives permission to the member countries to make exceptions in cases of unauthorized use of a recording for the purpose of teaching or scientific research.

International Copyright Application

India being a signatory to the Berne Convention, copyright protection can be availed of in a number of countries across the globe, even when the work is first published in India. Therefore, even without a formal application for copyright protection around the world, the protection is available to works published first in India. If the work is literary, artistic, cinematographic, or sound recording,  copyright protection is available for these.

The only condition that needs to be satisfied is that the work must be original. The law is not concerned with whether such work has been derived from original ideas or thoughts; it is only concerned with the originality of the work seeking copyright protection.

International Copyright under Indian laws

The works of foreign countries that are mentioned in the International Copyright Order get protection under Indian legislation. India protects such works as if they were Indian works. The legislation provides the same protection as it would provide to the works of its home country, in this case, India, and it does not go beyond the benefits provided to its home country and works only on a reciprocal basis.

Therefore, the foreign countries must also grant the same protection to works that are entitled to copyright under their respective acts.

The Copyright Act, 1957, along with the Copyright Rules, 2013, govern the law of copyright in India. Section 40 of the Act read with International Copyright Order 1999 states that India protects the works of such nationals of the countries who are members of the Berne Convention.

In Part 1 of the Schedule, a list of such countries is provided. Therefore, if someone wants to register their works in India, they can do so by complying with the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957, and the Copyright Rules, 2013.

Is copyright registration needed in each country where a person wants to claim copyright protection?

No, the registration of copyright is not required in every country. If a work is protected by copyright within a person’s own country, and if such a country is a signatory to the Berne Convention, then all Berne member countries’ works are protected by it.

No further steps are required, including registration or usage of the international copyright symbol. The Berne Convention does not allow the necessary copyright registration with a national copyright office in member countries.

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