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International Copyright

History Of The Berne Convention

The Berne Convention was first adopted on September 9, 1886, in Berne, Switzerland, and was later revised at several conferences: Paris, 1896; Berlin, 1908; Berne, 1914; Rome, 1928; Brussels, 1948; Stockholm, 1967; and Paris, 1971. The agreement grew out of a perceived need in the late nineteenth century to protect authored works from international PIRACY, or unauthorized copying. A growing demand for new printed materials during this era was motivating many publishers to reprint unauthorized versions of foreign works. Authors whose works were pirated had little recourse against those publishers because copyright laws were typically enacted on a national basis. Such laws gave copyright protection only to authors who were nationals of the country in which the laws were enacted.

A few countries negotiated bilateral treaties—two-party contracts termed reciprocal agreements—that protected the nationals of both countries, but such arrangements were rare. In the mid nineteenth century, a nongovernment organization, the Association Littéraire et Artistique International, was formed in Paris and led the movement for international copyright protection. This organization created the draft of what eventually became the Berne Convention. Among the first countries adhering to the Berne Convention were France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

The Berne Convention established several principles of international copyright that have remained through all of the treaty's versions. First, rather than operating on a system of reciprocity (under which a country protects foreign authors only to the extent that its own authors are protected in return), the convention works on the principle of national treatment (under which a country extends the same protection to foreigners that it accords to its own authors). Second, rather than trying to impose the same standards on all nations, the convention solved the problem of national differences in copyright protection by establishing minimum standards of protection that all signatories must meet. Thus, member countries may treat the copyrighted work of their own nationals in any way they choose, but they must treat works from nationals of other treaty members according to minimum treaty standards. Third, the convention provides for automatic protection of copyrighted works as soon as they are created, without any required formalities, such as notice or registration.

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