Every April 26, WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization) celebrates World Intellectual Property Day.
Copyright can be a tricky subject.
Thankfully, it’s a lot less confusing than it could have been.
The Berne Convention has been updated and tweaked here and there over the last century, but the fundamentals of the agreement have largely stayed the same.
There are currently 175 signatory countries that are part of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. With a total of 192 countries worldwide, this means that a vast majority of the world respect each other’s copyright laws. Does this mean that all the copyright protection you have in the US or Canada or the UK is the same throughout the world, essentially becoming international copyright?
Not exactly. Under the Berne Convention, it’s known as “national treatment”. If you are a US citizen or have a novel published in the US, you do not necessarily have the same protection for your work in another country like Zimbabwe.
However, you would be granted the national treatment in any country that isn’t your originating country. This means that your work will be granted the same protection that Zimbabwe (or any other country) grants its citizens. And this protection is automatic: there is absolutely no required conditions that must be met before your work can be given the national treatment of protection.
You might be asking: if the Berne Convention doesn’t make all the copyright and protection rules the same in all participating countries, then what is the point of the Berne Convention? Is there such a thing as international copyright?
The point is to grant minimum standards of protection. There might be differences between signatory countries on their various standards of copyright protection, but the Berne Convention ensures that all work by nationals of Berne Convention participating states is granted the minimum standards of protection.
With this in mind, creators can rest assured knowing that are always granted the following rights:
These are the economic rights that the Berne Convention guarantees. As a creator, you may create and sell digital or physical copies, display your work in public, perform your work in public, and create other work based off of your previously created work.
One thing most authors are not aware of is that they have moral rights over their work – in their nation/state, and all Berne Convention signatory states. This means a couple of things, including:
However, moral rights are less standardized than economic rights. While the points listed above are the suggested minimum standards of protection for moral rights, countries generally enforce their moral rights in their own way. (If this is all you learn on #worldIPday, that will still have been a good day.)
A slight aside while we’re on the topic of moral rights. Many traditional publishing contracts require authors to waive their moral rights, but that is (we hope) beginning to change. (There was a fascinating case in Canada you can read about here that raised the profile and potential problems with moral rights. In the Ingenium Books’ contracts we do not require that authors waive their moral rights.)
As we know, copyright protects authors from having their work used, altered, or profited from without their knowledge or authorization. However, this is not an absolute rule. There are certain exceptions on when the copyright owner’s authorization is required and when it isn’t.
Typically, in the context of international copyright, these exceptions are known as ‘free use’. Free use can be exercised in the following scenarios:
Take note that ‘free use’ and ‘fair use’ (or ‘fair dealing’ for Canadian authors) aren’t interchangeable terms. The Berne Convention requires signatory states to respect these minimum standards pertaining to ‘free use’.
However, as a responsible author – indie or traditionally published – you should be aware of what you can and can’t do with your work. That means understanding copyright law in your home country as well as international copyright. This protects you from those who would try to take those rights away from you or exploit you and your work simply because you are not aware of your rights.
We think every day should be World Intellectual Property Day, don’t you?
If you’re interested in learning more about World Intellectual Property Day, visit the WIPO website, here.
Boni is co-founder of Ingenium Books and an author, editor, and ghostwriter. She also manages communications and media for the Alliance of Independent Authors. As an award-winning former Canadian television reporter, news anchor, producer, and talk show host, working under the names Boni Fox and Boni Fox Gray, Boni covered politics, government, the economy, health, First Nations, and crime. She won several Canadian Association of Broadcaster (CAB) awards and a Jack Webster Award for best documentary. Boni also held senior management roles in government, leading teams responsible for editorial, issues management, media relations, strategic communications planning. Boni is co-author of Rock Your Business: 26 Essential Lessons to Start, Run, and Grow Your New Business From the Ground Up.
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