Copyrights like patents provide coverage on a territorial basis, thus if your commercialization plans include foreign countries, you should obtain copyright registration in those countries.
International Treaties related to Copyright Protection
A United States (U.S.) Copyright registration protection stops at the U.S. borders, however, there are several international treaties such as the “Berne Convention”, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) relating to Trade Aspects of International Property Rights (TRIPS), and the “Universal Copyright Convention” (UCC) that help ensure industrialized country copyright protection.
The Berne Convention was joined by the U.S. on March 1, 1989, and is the most important copyright treaty as it covers the U.S., Canada, Mexico, most of Western Europe, Japan, and Australia, and basically provides for reciprocal rights on copyrights between countries. For works published before March 1, 1989, a simultaneous publication was required in a Berne Convention country, for example Canada, to obtain the benefit of the Berne Convention. The Berne Convention provides minimal copyright protection, in every member country for someone having a copyright in one member country.
Some countries have special rules regarding specific notices, registrations, and other requirements that can result in added protections. The best method of compliance is to determine the desired countries for protection and use a local agent in that country to understand if the added protections would be worth the extra effort and cost.
The minimal Berne Convention protections include:
- Copyright duration of at least the author’s life plus 70 years.
- Granting of “Moral” rights, this is basically giving the original author control over the work even if it is sold or licensed to prevent any distortion or mutilation of the work that could damage the author’s reputation. Note that “Moral Rights” in copyright law do not exist in the U.S.
- Fair use exception covering education and newsworthy events.
Universal Copyright Convention
The U.S. joined the UCC on September 16, 1955 and applies to works published from this date to the signing of the Berne Convention, which takes priority over the UCC. The UCC allows member countries to impose formalities on copyright registration unless a proper notice (supra) is given, and only gives a copyright duration of the author’s life plus 25 years.
Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
TRIPS basically requires GATT member countries to comply with the Berne Convention, however, not including Moral Rights. A number of third world countries such as Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, etc. have no copyright agreements and would require individual copyright registration in those countries. Note that more countries are signing these treaties through time, thus an updated check in the countries desired for registration is always required at the time of registration.