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International Copyright Law

Copyright law internationally is not statutorily bound but is instead based on treaties. Therefore, no work will be protected by statute in every country of the world. However, several key international treaties attempt to ensure uniformity amongst member states. 

Determine international protection

To determine the protection that a work has within a country that has not signed a treaty, of which the U.S. is a member, you will need to consider the copyright laws of that nation.

Key Treaties

The U.S. is a member of all of the following treaties. This means that U.S. law follows the requirements of the treaty. With respect to any individual judicial proceeding, the local law of the jurisdiction will probably be applied, since that jurisdiction’s statutes are presumably in compliance with the treaties’ requirements. The diagram of treaties and relationships illustrates the connection between the treaties, including Berne, NAFTA, GATT, WIPO, and TRIPS.

Berne Convention

The Berne Convention of 1971 is the main copyright treaty designed to protect literary and artistic works. Its provisions are largely the same as those found under U.S. copyright law.

WIPO Copyright Treaty

This treaty, according to its own terms under Article 1, is considered a special agreement under Berne. It provides additional protection for:

  • Computer programs
  • Databases

WIPO alters the rights of distribution under Article 6 and WIPO adds the right to control rentals of computer programs, cinematographic works, and phonograms under Article 7.

Finally, WIPO makes similar restrictions to those in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which generally restricts parties from circumventing digital copyright protections under Article 11 and prevents removal or alteration of copyright management under Article 12.

WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty


TRIPS was designed to create uniformity in the protection of intellectual property.

TRIPS attempts to ensure that no member country provides better protection to its own nationals than to foreigners seeking protection within the state (Article 3). Further, any protection granted to the nationals of another state must be granted to all foreign nationals (Article 4).

TRIPS also ensures the protection of the WIPO treaty applies to all TRIPS states, such as those protecting computer software and databases.

TRIPS also discusses the protection of trademarks, geographic designations, industrial designs, patents, circuitry, trade secrets, and antitrust issues, discussing enforcement of all its provisions as well.

Paris Convention

The Paris Convention provides uniform protection for patents, trademarks, and unfair competition claims.

Key Differences Between U.S. and International Copyright Laws: Moral Rights and Fair Use

Moral rights

Countries other than the U.S. recognize protection of an author’s moral rights in addition to those listed in U.S. Title 17 Section 106. Moral rights recognize the author’s parental and dignitary rights, associated with the author’s right to control what others do to their works or how their name is used.

To ensure compliance with international treaties, the U.S. added Section 106A to the Copyright Act, but its scope is arguably narrower than the moral rights protected in other countries. It provides the right to:

  • Claim authorship for a work
  • Prevent the use of the author’s name on any work not created by the author
  • Prevent intentional distortion or mutilation that prejudices the author’s honor or reputation
  • Prevent the destruction of famous works

Unlike under international law, in the United States moral rights can be transferred just the same as the copyright. In addition, the duration under U.S. law is different. U.S. law also seems to allow for waiver of an author’s moral rights.

Fair use

The fair use defense to copyright infringement under Section 107 of U.S. copyright law is much broader than international fair use provisions. International fair use exemptions tend to be more specific in nature.