Bern Convention: A Landmark For Copyright Law

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September marked a critical moment in the history of copyright law. On the 9th of September, 1886, the Bern Convention was first signed by a number of nations, laying the grounds for norms that are now common in copyright protection. The idea behind the Bern Convention was first developed by French writer and politician Victor Hugo. The main problem behind it was concerns on copyright protection on an international level, as there was no definitive protocol in regard to copyright protection between multiple countries. Before the Bern Convention, a work protected in its country of origin could be reproduced and sold by other parties in another country. With the signing, and subsequent ratification of the Bern Convention, member countries must give copyright protection to works from other countries, as if it was made in their own country. For example, Italian copyright law protects works published and displayed in Italy, even works that weren’t originally created in Italy. Protection is independent of the existence of protection in the work’s country of origin. However, if a Contracting State provides for a longer term of protection than the minimum prescribed by the convention and the work ceases to be protected in the country of origin, protection may be denied once protection in the country of origin concludes.

Copyright protection between multiple states may have been the main objective behind the Bern Convention, but the convention also normalized other standards adapted in various countries. This is a natural extension to the original purpose of the convention– If a work is protected in a country that is not the original country where the work was created, but the two relevant countries have very different copyright laws, it would be redundant. Therefore, the Berne Convention establishes various standards that contracting states must adhere to.

Among these standards is the requirement for copyright under the Berne Convention to be conditional and not upon compliance with any formality. Contracting states can require works originating in their own country to be registered but cannot require these formalities to work from other member states.

Furthermore, the Bern Convention stipulates certain specific, standard rights that would constitute copyright. These rights include:

  • the right to translate,
  • the right to make adaptations and arrangements of the work,
  • the right to perform in public dramatic, dramatico-musical and musical works,
  • the right to recite literary works in public,
  • the right to communicate to the public the performance of such works,
  • the right to broadcast (with the possibility that a Contracting State may provide for a mere right to equitable remuneration instead of a right of authorization),
  • the right to make reproductions in any manner or form (with the possibility that a Contracting State may permit, in certain special cases, reproduction without authorization, provided that the reproduction does not conflict with the normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author; and the possibility that a Contracting State may provide, in the case of sound recordings of musical works, for a right to equitable remuneration),
  • the right to use the work as a basis for an audiovisual work, and the right to reproduce, distribute, perform in public or communicate to the public that audiovisual work

In addition, the Bern Convention allows “freeuse”– cases in which copyrighted works may be used without the copyright owner’s authorization. However, The Bern Convention also provides rights for creators to object to any mutilation, deformation, or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the work that would harm the creator’s reputation.

Lastly, concerning the duration of protection, the general rule is that the protection period lasts until the expiration of the 50th year after the author’s death. Exceptions are made for works created anonymously or by creators using a pseudonym. In this case, the term of protection expires 50 years after the work has been lawfully made available to the public, except if the pseudonym leaves no doubt as to the author’s identity or if the author discloses his or her identity during that period; in the latter case, the general rule applies. For audiovisual works,, the minimum term of protection is 50 years after the work is released to the public, or if it were never released, then from the creation of the work. In the case of works of applied art and photographic works, the minimum term is 25 years from the creation of the work.

If Partners have any questions concerning the Bern Convention, copyright in general, or even other disciplines in IP, do not hesitate to contact us via We are more than ready to assist you in IP-related matters.



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