For creative types, understanding copyrights is a big deal. The ability to protect your brand is at stake. At the same time, you want to ensure that you don’t infringe on anyone else’s rights. Depending on the scope of your business, you might also need to know how international copyrights work.
No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, working with an attorney who specializes in copyright law is essential. At Angie Avard Turner Law, LLC, we help business owners protect their intellectual property at every level. From copyrights to trademarks, we can make sure you get the protection you deserve.
How Do International Copyrights Work?
Just when you get your head around the basic ins and outs of US copyright law, you might have questions about protecting your work outside our borders. But the reality is that understanding how to protect your work here in the US is the crucial piece to know.
I say this because there actually isn’t such a thing as an international copyright. At least, it doesn’t exist in the way many people think it does. Surprised? Many people are!
Copyright protection exists in the nation where you seek it. That is, copyrights are territorial and do not automatically cover your work outside the country where you gain protection. Just as US laws are not enforceable in other countries, neither are US copyrights.
However, the fact that international copyrights aren’t a thing doesn’t mean that you can’t pursue protection at some level.
A Quick Copyright Overview
In the US, copyright protection is in place for your work the moment it is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Technically, there is nothing more that you need to do. Of course, it’s not quite that simple when it comes to legal issues.
Yes, protection exists as soon as you complete that screenplay, take that cell phone photo, or design that fabric. But to have the chance to legally defend yourself against infringement, you need to register your copyright. This registration does not ensure that no one will copy your work, but it does mean that you can take legal action right away.
You must officially register your copyright to pursue any litigation in most cases. While you can always go back and do this, defending yourself is much faster and simpler if the registration is already in place.
Once you register a copyright, be sure to use the © symbol somewhere on your work. Again, while not a requirement for copyright protection, using the symbol is helpful. It can give people time to pause before attempting to use your creation and further boosts your case if you have to litigate.
The Berne Convention
So, if there is no international copyright protection on the books, how can creators protect their work in our increasingly globalized world? Do you have to seek legal protection in every country?
Fortunately, you do not need to take that drastic step. Several agreements and treaties extend some level of international protection to your work once you have US copyright protection. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is the most important of these treaties.
For years, the US was wary of entering into this agreement because of its restriction on “formalities” for protection. To be part of the Berne Union, countries cannot impose formalities on foreign nationals, such as the US registration-before-litigation rule. Eventually, Congress amended the US Copyright Act to allow for this stipulation, and America joined the Berne Union in 1989.
The result of this agreement is that citizens of member nations have something that resembles international copyright protection. For example, if you write a book here in the US and receive copyright protection, you also receive copyright protection for that work in other member countries.
Within the Berne Union, all holders of copyrights receive the same minimum protections regardless of the country of origin. And they do not have to undergo formalities such as registering a copyright to enjoy that protection.
A separate agreement adds another layer to this conversation. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) claims most of the world’s nations as members, and it requires those who ratify it to abide by the Berne Convention. This stipulation holds even if the country isn’t technically a member of the Berne Union.
Putting all of these pieces together gives authors and creators significant international copyright protection without a true international copyright law. It’s rather complicated, but at least it’s there!
But Does It Work?
It’s great that some level of copyright protection exists in much of the world. But how enforceable is it? How do you handle international infringement?
The truth is that it can be difficult. It’s not necessarily hard to prove infringement, but it can be challenging to follow through because you have to go through the country’s court system where it happened. This process is costly and time-consuming, so anyone affected has to decide if it’s worth the effort to pursue legal action.
A few things can make it easier to protect yourself from the beginning:
Register your copyright(s) in the United States.
Use the registered copyright symbol (©).
If you collaborate with a company in a foreign country, ensure you have a robust contract. Always have an IP attorney on your side for this.
If you face an international copyright infringement of your work, try to determine if the circumstances fall under US jurisdiction. For example, if someone copies your protected creation in another country and imports that product to the US, you can pursue legal action in the American court system. This type of situation makes it easier for you to handle the situation since you don’t have to go through a different nation’s courts.
Protect Yourself with Expert Representation
Your hard work and heartfelt creations deserve all the protection the law can offer. Ensure that you have all those protections in place by working with an intellectual property attorney who can help you through the whole process.
At Angie Avard Turner Law, LLC, we help entrepreneurs protect what they create through trademarks, contracts, copyrights, and our unique Law Lab subscription service. Not sure where to start? Reserve your time to talk, and we can make a plan that fits your needs.