April 24


International Copyright: 4 Facts Indie Authors Need to Know (on #WorldIPDay)

By Boni Wagner-Stafford

April 24, 2018

#copyright, #indieauthors, #moralrights, #worldipday, Berne Convention

Every April 26, WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization) celebrates World Intellectual Property Day. The aim of #worldIPday is to promote the role that intellectual property rights, including international copyright, play in creativity and innovation. Every year there’s a different theme. For 2018, it is: ‘Powering Change: Women in Innovation and Creativity.’ We salute WIPO for drawing attention to women in innovation and creativity… in fact we support drawing attention to all innovation and creativity. We feel so strongly about it, we have imbued our brand with the notion: in Latin the meaning of Ingenium, as in Ingenium Books, is character, innate or natural talents or abilities. We’ve decided it means ‘creative mind’ or ‘creative thinking’. Ok, on with the blog.


your copyrightCopyright can be a tricky subject. Figuring out the copyright laws in your own country can be tough enough, but what happens when you start thinking about international copyright? After all, in a globalized world, nothing really sticks to a single country these days. Do you still have the same rights abroad? 

Thankfully, it’s a lot less confusing than it could have been. In 1886, the publishing world had the foresight to recognize how difficult cross-border copyright might be. This led to the signing of the Berne Convention in Berne, Switzerland, an international copyright agreement which standardized copyright laws around the world.

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. Here are four important facts regarding international copyright and the Berne Convention.

 1) Everyone from All Signing Countries Falls Under the Berne Convention

Berne Convention

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.

2) You Have Full Economic Rights

Economic RightsYou 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:

  • The right to translate their work
  • The right to make adaptations
  • The right to perform in public
  • The right to recite in public
  • The right to communicate in public
  • The right to broadcast
  • The right to reproduce the work in any manner
  • The right to use the work as a basis for an audiovisual work

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. When working with international distributors, don’t fall for any schemes in which they convince you that they need extra funding or approval from you to distribute your work.

3) You Have Moral Rights Over Your Work

Moral RightsOne 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:

  • You always have the right to claim you are the creator of your work, and the Berne Convention stipulates that this right must be upheld
  • You have the right to protect your work from derogatory modification, defamation, and mutilation, or any other act in which use of the work hurts your image
  • You have the right to choose to use a pseudonym or remain anonymous when publishing a work.

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.)

4) When Your Authorization Isn’t Required

No Approval NeededAs 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:

  • Quotations and other short excerpts of a work, reproduced for teaching
  • Using works related to current events to report in the newspaper and similar formats
  • Broadcasting short recordings of your work 
  • Developing countries can reproduce and translate an author’s work without authorization if it is to be used for teaching purposes.

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’. 

‘Fair use’ and ‘fair dealing’ are specific respectively to American and Canadian copyright law. The former is more open-ended in fair use interpretation than the latter. Read more about these differences in our US copyright article and our Canadian copyright article. You may also be interested in our UK copyright or Australia copyright article.

Why Should You Care About International Copyright? 

Why Care About International Copyright?You’re more than just a writer when you’re an independent author. Maybe that’s why you chose to forgo the traditional publishing world, simply because you wanted to be more involved in the business side of things. 

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. As an indie author, you should actually be more aware of the full extent of your rights. That’s because you – and you alone – are in control of protecting your work.

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

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