Landman Library

International Copyright

Just because it’s not American doesn’t mean it isn’t protected by copyright law.


There is no such thing as international copyright law, which is easy to understand when you consider that there is no such thing as an international legislative body to establish international law.

There are such things, though, as international copyright treaties that apply to the countries that sign them.

WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) is at the center of numerous international copyright treaties. WIPO is a non-legislative agency of the UN.

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works

One of the most important of these treaties is the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (“Berne”). The U.S. is one of 168 national signatories (members) of Berne. The other members include effectively all of the countries representing the developed world.

Here are the three main principles of Berne from an American perspective:

  1. In the U.S., copyright holders of any other member nation have the same copyrights as as American copyright holders (“national treatment”). In other words, for example, an author of a work on a foreign website accessed in the U.S. has the same copyright privileges as an author of an American website.
  2. This protection exists regardless of whether or not the country of national origin has its own copyright law.
  3. This protection is automatic requiring no further action from the copyright holder. In other words, no registration of the copyright is necessary and no use of a copyright symbol is necessary to activate the protection.

Go to the Summary of the Berne Convention to read more details.