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What You Didn’t Know About the Berne Convention

What You Didn't Know About the Berne Convention

The Berne Convention for the Protection
of Literary and Artistic Works is an international treaty that imposes certain
regulations and statutes that are accepted by its collective members, or
signatories. The Berne Convention was created to institute a cohesive
amalgamation of international copyright law for the purpose of convenience and
ease of interpretation between countries.

Before the Berne Convention, countries
had their own copyright processes and laws that would make the recognition of
other countries’ copyright laws a confusing matter. The institution of an
international copyright law allows for the proper interpretation of general
copyright laws and legislation between countries so aspects such as copyright
infringement can be properly assessed and regulated.

The Berne Convention, as the international
agreement is commonly referred, derives its name from the city in which it was
first accepted as an international copyright law, Berne, Switzerland, in 1886.
The Berne Convention was first developed by a member of the Association
Litteraire et Artistique Internationale, Victor Hugo. 

One the most notable
inclusions of provisions in the Berne Convention is the fact that under its
legislation, creative works and their copyrights are inferred upon their
creation and no proper registration or application for copyright is necessary.
Copyrights are inherited naturally upon a creative works production.

Once a work is termed as “fixed,”
or written and/or recorded in some physical form, the author of such work is
granted copyrights to that particular work, and any other creative works
stemming from the original. The copyright remains in the author’s possession
until the copyright term expires, or the author explicitly gives up his/her
right to copyright ownership. 

Thus, under this provision, nations under the
Berne Convention must recognize the copyrights of authors and their works from
foreign countries and consider them under domestic copyright law statutes as
having the same privileges and rights.

The Berne Convention became an
international copyright law that was influenced by the French concept of
“right of the author,” as opposed to the United Kingdom’s concept of
copyright, which was solely based on economic and monetary concerns. The
inherent development of the Berne Convention and its philosophy and structure
are evidence that there were different notions regarding copyrights that varied
from nation to nation, thus making the development of cohesive standards for
international copyright law deemed to be necessary.

Before the Berne Convention, any
particular published work could be created and be protected under its own
nation’s copyright laws, but in another, the work could be copied and
distributed freely. Nations were not forced or required to observe foreign
copyright laws and would often refuse to adhere to them because they did not
apply under their own national copyright laws and standards. The Berne
Convention would allow for the integration of copyright laws so that all
nations’ authors and their creative works or materials’ copyrights could be
protected under one international copyright law, regardless if the respective
nations had their own particular system or process for copyright.

The Berne Convention was also influenced by the
Paris Convention, allowing for the integration of recognition of other types
intellectual property, as well as setting up a bureau to handle the
administrative responsibilities of the new statutes. By 1893, the Berne
Convention instituted the United International Bureaux for the Protection of
Intellectual Property, situated in Geneva. 

The main purpose of this Bureau,
also known as BIRPI, was to simply apply and enforce the provisions of the Berne
Convention. BIRPI would eventually move its headquarters to Geneva in 1960,
which was also home to the United Nations. BIRPI would become the predecessor
to the World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, which was created in

As per the structure and provisions granted in the
Berne Convention, the United States did become a member or signatory on March
1st, 1989, when the United States would pass the Berne Convention
Implementation Act of 1988. The reason that the U.S. refused to join the Berne
Convention previously was because copyright laws and the required registration
and mandatory notice of copyright were implemented into U.S. legislation.
Joining the convention would incur major revisions and changes to copyright

The inclusion of moral rights was also an
issue that prompted the refusal to join. However, the United States would
eventually realize the need for a governing international copyright law, and
even though it did have to amend and revise some legal statutes, the U.S. still
has its original system of copyright registration and overall statutes.
Currently, the Berne Convention is upheld by 164 countries around the world.