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Standards & Guidelines » Intellectual Property

Copyright outside the United States

The United States Copyright Office makes clear that there is no universal “international copyright” and that protection against infringements and violations is dependent upon the laws of a particular country and their enforcement. In practice, unless copyrights are covered by international conventions and treatises, violations of copyright and intellectual property are often referred to the country in which the allegation arises. In theory, there are limited common grounds for understanding copyright internationally since definitions of terms and applications of concepts change from country to country. It is best to understand copyright and intellectual property law as locally applied; nevertheless, there are some shared standard principles.

International conventions and treatises serve as means of guiding adherence to intellectual and copyright law for their signatories. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, originally signed in 1886 and renewed regularly, serves as the primary convention. The Universal Copyright Convention (UCC), created in 1952, served as an alternative to the Berne Convention, though the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), through the World Trade Organization (WTO), has rendered the UCC inapplicable in most instances. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency dealing with intellectual property issues, assists in the development of standards and administers the Berne Convention. Additionally, bilateral agreements may exist between the United States and countries that enforce or supersede the above conventions and organizations. In the case of the European Union (EU), this is facilitated by the Copyright Directive (EUCD) of 2001, which incorporates statutes of the Berne Convention and WIPO agreements within the EU. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been signed but not ratified by the United States and other nations. Once ratified, the agreement would create a new governing body to target and regulate copyright infringement on the Internet.

Simply put, understanding international copyright and intellectual property law is complicated. Not all of the information, directives, or statutes of conventions and treaties are applicable or relevant within the United States. For information beyond the scope of the resources listed here, seek legal assistance.

General Resources and References

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States [and Other Countries]

List of parties to international copyright agreements

A Graphic Representation of Signatories to International Copyright and Intellectual Property Conventions and Treaties

WIPO Handbook on International Treaties and Conventions on Intellectual Property (Chapter 5)

Artists and Moral Rights - Visual Artists Rights Act - VARA (1990)
“Rights of certain authors to attribution and integrity” - Section 106A, U. S. Code - Title 17 - Copyrights
VARA protects the moral rights of artists in the United States. In theory, the Berne Convention protects moral rights.

Copyright by Country


“Digital Access: The Impact of Copyright on Digitisation Practices in Australian Museums, Galleries, Libraries and Archives,” by Emily Hudson and Andrew T. Kenyon (UNSW Law Journal 30, no. 1 [2007])

“Without Walls: Copyright Law and Digital Collections in Australian Cultural Institutions,” by Emily Hudson and Andrew T. Kenyon (University of Melbourne Legal Studies Research paper no. 240)


Chronology of Canadian Copyright Law

Canadian Copyright Act (R.S., 1985, c. C-42)

Act to Amend the Copyright Act (Bill C-32), 35th Parliament, 2nd Session (February 27, 1996–April 27, 1997)

Bill C-60, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act and to Amend Other Acts in Consequence Thereof (Dead 2005)


China has acknowledged and created a legal framework for protecting copyrights over the last few decades and is a signatory of the Berne Convention and TRIPS. China continues to develop bilateral agreements with the United States, but has regularly been challenged over its insufficient legal protections. Dramatic improvements have been made in recent years, however, and it is clear that China’s intentions are to develop strong copyright and intellectual property laws.

National Copyright Administration of the People’s Republic of China

State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China

International Intellectual Property Alliance Report and China’s Compliance with TRIPS

Copyright Law of the People’s Republic of China (1990)

Copyright Law of the People’s Republic of China (2010)


French copyright differs from Anglo-American law in its emphasis on droit d’auteur (right of author) and is defined by the Code de la propriété intellectuelle, which implements EU copyright and IP law. The term “author” is interpreted quite broadly (though some debate exists over its applicability to computer programming), and is extended to proprietary, reproductive, and performative rights as well as moral rights (which often overlap). One striking difference of French law is that a violation of copyright or IP law is a criminal offense with very strong penalties. This has been further enforced with the implementation of Loi sur le Droit d’Auteur et les Droits Voisins dans la Société de l’Information (Law on the right of author and the related rights in the information society) (DADVSI) of 2006.

United Kingdom

British copyright and IP law differs from EU law. The Hargreaves Report, Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth (2011), recommends ten changes to UK law to overcome copyright restrictions that obstruct economic growth.

General References

The Intellectual Property Office is the official government body responsible for granting IP rights in the UK.

The British Copyright Council serves as a forum for copyright issues.

UK Copyright Service Factsheet explains how the Berne Convention provides the author the same copyright protection as nationals of the country where the work resides (2009). It also lists the countries that signed the Berne Convention.

Own-It Copyright Factsheet (2004) is a basic introduction to acquiring and asserting copyright and moral rights in the creative industries in the UK.

Own-It Glossary of IP Terms is a quick and easy guide to frequently used legal terms in IP.

Own-It FAQs covers many areas of IP.

UK Copyright Service Factsheet “Understanding Fair Use” (2004) is a brief but useful definition of the notion of fair use.

UK Copyright Service Factsheet, “Using the Work of Others” (2009), is a detailed guide to UK copyright law with extensive section on fair use and fair dealing. In cases where fair use is not clear, it offers guidance on acquiring permissions.

A-N, the Artist Information Company's “Practical Guide to Copyright” (2003) is a subscriber resource designed for artists in the UK. It explains the automatic application of copyright and guides artists on recording and safeguarding their work.

The DACS guide and factsheet (2006) are two resources that offer a basic guide (talk) and factsheet (delegate notes) on IP issues and collaborative processes.

Own-It podcast “How Not to Get Ripped Off: Enforcing and Protecting Your IP” (2008)

Own-It podcast “IP for Creatives: A practical guide to protecting and valuing your ideas” (2009)

Own-It podcast “Your Work on the Web and How to Protect It” (2006)

The UK Copyright Service's “Top 10 Copyright Myths” is a guide to common misconceptions about copyright law, including “poor man’s copyright” or the postal method.

Permissions and Licensing

Copyright Licensing Agency

Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS)

The UK Copyright Service Factsheet, “Obtaining Permission to Use Copyrighted Material” (2004), is a practical guide to applying for permission to use copyright protected material, emphasizing the need to act early and acquire written agreements.

A-N, the Artist Information Company's, “Practical Guide to Reproduction Licensing” (2003), is a subscriber resource for artists in the UK who wish to grant a gallery, for example, permission to reproduce an image for an agreed-upon fee.

City University, “Copyright and Images” is a short guide on image reuse, including a list of free image-resource sites.

GNU Free Documentation License

Creative Commons Licenses

Own-It Creative Commons Factsheet (2004) is a basic introduction to the origin and use of Creative Commons licenses. It looks at how Creative Commons allows creators to take advantage of the Internet as a distribution channel and outlines the rights they can assert or waive once registered. It reminds British creators to select Creative Commons licenses relevant to the UK.

The UK Copyright Service Factsheet, “Copyleft” (2007), is a description of the way so-called “copyleft” licenses (like Creative Commons licenses) offer a way to adapt copyright in order to take advantage of internet distribution possibilities.

“Orphan Works” embody a worldwide problem that affects finding rightful owners of copyrighted material for the purpose of obtaining permission to use the work in another way. At this time, several studies outside the US have been conducted, which include: Assessment of the Orphan works issue and Costs for Rights Clearance, by Anna Vuopala (European Commission, DG Information Society and Media, Unit E4 Access to Information, May 2010); Audiovisual Orphan Works in Europe  - national survey (British Film Institute, May 2011); Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth Orphan (an independent report by Professor Ian Hargreaves, May 2011); Orphan Works in France (oeuvres visuelles orphelines); and Canada's `Orphan Works' Regime: Unlocateable Owners and the Copyright Board, by Jeremy de Beer and Mario Bouchard (Copyright Board of Canada, December 2009).

Additional Resources

The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) is an international organization protecting academic and scholarly publishing rights.

A-N, the Artist Information Company's “Practical Guide to Selecting a Solicitor” (2003) a subscriber resource for artists in the UK who need legal representation.

A-N, the Artist Information Company also offers artist resources, insurance services, and advocacy networks.

Anti Copying in Design (ACID) is an advice network and mediation services for design copyright infringement.

The British Association of Picture Libraries Association (BAPLA) website includes information on licensing and copyright protection.

Briffa is a UK law firm specializing in IP issues.

The British Library Business and IP Centre offers advice, training, and resources.

JISC Legal strives to overcome legal issues that are barriers to the use of new technologies in higher education.

Own-It offers IP advice for creative businesses.

Public Lending Right (PLR) provides advice and support in registering books for public lending right payments.

The Writers Guild is a trade union for writers in TV, radio, theater, books, poetry, film, and video games.