Do you know what the Berne Convention is?

Do you know what the Berne Convention is?

Our regular readers may have noticed that many of our documents refer to the Berne Convention. When it comes to copyright, the Convention is a foundational element. Since it’s hard to talk about copyright without referring to it, we think it’s important to provide some background.

International copyright treaty

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is an international treaty ratified by 175 countries and administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The Convention sets out the basic principles that the signatory states must guarantee in their copyright policies and legislation.

The Convention applies to “every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever the mode or form of its expression" (Article 2(1)). It contains three basic principles and establishes minimum standards.

Basic principles

The Convention’s three basic principles ensure that your copyright is recognized in all the signatory states and that their copyright policies will apply to your works. What are the three principles?

National treatment

The signatory states agree to give foreign works the same protection as the works originating in their own country. A foreign work is considered to be any work published for the first time in another country or whose author is from another country.

For example, since Canada has signed the Berne Convention, works originating from other signatory states such as the United States, France, Japan or Azerbaijan must be given the same protection as Canadian works under Canada’s Copyright Act.

Automatic protection

The protection set out in the signatory states’ legislation does not require any formalities or notifications. It’s not necessary to register your work, add your name or include a copyright notice such as the © symbol in order for the work to be protected by copyright.

In other words, works are automatically copyrighted as soon as they are “fixed in any material form.”

Independence of protection

When used in another country, works are not limited to the copyright legislation in effect in their country of origin. They’re always protected by the legislation in the country where they’re being used. As a result, the protection applicable to the work may vary depending on the territory where it’s used, regardless of the author’s origin or the country in which it was published for the first time.

This third basic principle is related to the first principle stating that the legislation in each of the signatory states must treat domestic and foreign works equally.

Minimum standards

The signatory states are also required to respect certain minimum standards in their policies. Those standards relate to:

- Patrimonial rights
- Moral rights
- Minimum duration of copyright (50 years)

History of the Berne Convention

The Berne Convention was first ratified in 1886 by eight countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia and the United Kingdom.

The driving force behind its creation was French writer Victor Hugo. At the time, as president of the Association littéraire et artistique internationale (ALAI), he was promoting cooperation between countries and pushing for the creation of an international agreement to protect intellectual property in the arts.

The Convention was amended a number of times over the years. The latest changes were made in 1979.

After being administered by the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual Property (BIRPI) from 1893 to 1969, the Berne Convention has been overseen by WIPO since 1970 and is therefore one of the many treaties falling under the authority of the United Nations.

To find out more about copyright around the world, please check out the “International” category in our news section.