International Copyright
Intellectual Property

Is my Copyright Internationally Protected?

International Copyrght

There is no international copyright protecting creative work in countries around the world.  Each country has its own laws and regulations.  However, most countries have signed on to one or more international treaties that provide protections for works within those contracting countries.  The United States is a party to the following:

The Berne Convention, most importantly, has significantly simplified protection for artistic works across the 167 countries that are parties. According to the US Copyright Office:

the works of an author who is a national or domiciliary of a country that is a member of these treaties or works first published in a member country or published within 30 days of first publication in a Berne Convention country can claim protection under the treaty.

There are no formal requirements in the Berne Convention but most countries follow the notice provisions set in the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). The UCC requires using the symbol © (C in a circle) accompanied by the year of first publication and the name of the copyright holder (for example: © 2013 John Smith). This notice must be placed where it can easily be seen so that it givers reasonable notice of the copyright claim to anyone who would want to steal. Since the Berne Convention prohibits formal requirements the United States makes the use of a copyright notice optional.

However, there are good reasons to use this formality.  Among the most important are, 1) if someone does use a work without the copyright holder’s permission, the infringer cannot claim that the use of the work was innocent; that they didn’t know it was under copyright.  2) For digital copies, such as images posted online, courts have determined that the copyright notice is a digital access control mechanism as defined by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and therefore, if removed by the infringer, allows the copyright holder awards of up to $25,000 for each work.

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The copyright notice is not a replacement for registration with the Copyright Office.  In the United States, copyright registration is required for any Federal copyright lawsuit for works created in the United States.  Foreign works do not have to register to bring a suit, in the U.S.  However, both foreign and U.S. works must register with the Copyright Office either, within three months of publication or before an infringement, for eligibility to receive statutory damage awards and payment of legal fees by the infringer.  (see article here in importance of registration)

For protection in countries that have not signed on to these conventions, protection may still be available if the United States has a bilateral treaty with that country or under a country’s national laws. (See Circular 38a, for more information).

Look for more detailed information, on these treaties and international copyright, in upcoming articles.  Until then, see Rights Direct for a short synopsis of the various international rules.

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About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art and law. Should you have any questions on Intellectual Property contact him at [email protected] His photography can be seen online at or on display at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York City.

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