Global marketplace, global problems! You thought you had a handle on copyright and then you realized someone was infringing on your copyright halfway across the world. How can you enforce your rights in another country?
Before we get to international enforcement, let’s refresh quickly about copyright in general. The U.S. Copyright Office defines a copyright as, “A form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for “original works of authorship”, including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. The copyright attaches as soon as the work is created and registration is not a requirement for protection within the United States. Whoever the copyright holder is controls all future uses of the work within the United States and anywhere else.
Copyright Enforcement Within the United States
If your copyright is being infringed within the United States you have several options to stop the infringement. Some examples include:
- A simple call or email to the “infringer” asking them to stop
- A cease and desist letter to the “infringer”
- A DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Takedown Notice
- A lawsuit
Now what about if the infringement is taking place in another country? Are your rights still protected? Do you take the same actions as if it was taking place within the United States?
Your rights are likely still offered some level of protection, of course this is dependent upon the country in which the infringement is taking place. Most countries have some sort of copyright protection for works that originate from other countries. Figuring out the copyright protection of each country has been made easier through the creation of various international treaties and conventions. Some of the main ones are:
- The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
The Berne Convention protects copyrights in all member countries. There are three main principles of the convention:
- Works originating in any member country are afforded the same protection as a work originating within each member country.
- Protection is automatic.
- Protection beyond the minimum time set in the convention (generally 50 years after the author’s death) is only as long as in the country the work originated from.
While the Berne Convention provides for great copyright protection there is no enforcement mechanism. Each member country’s laws must meet certain set standards (minimum protections) in order to join, but there is little way to punish a non-complying country.
The Berne Convention was recognized by the WTO (World Trade Organization) and incorporated by the TRIPS agreement (The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) with some slight modifications.
- The Universal Copyright Convention (UCC)
The UCC protects copyrights in all member countries. In order to be protected by UCC the copyright symbol (©), the year of first publication, and the name of the copyright owner must be included in a place that allows reasonable notice of copyright.
This was created as an alternative to the Berne Convention. However, most countries have now become members of Berne Convention.
If a work is not protected under a treaty or convention, it may still be protected under a bilateral agreement. This means that your copyright will be recognized in Country X if there is a specific agreement between the United States and Country X. If the country where the copyright infringement is taking place is not a member of applicable treaties or conventions and there is no bilateral agreement, then enforcement of your rights is likely impossible.
International Copyright Enforcement
Although there are copyright protections for works originating in the United States enforcement is another issue. Often the only way to enforce protection through the methods described above is through the court system in the country where the infringement has happened. As you can imagine, that can be a costly endeavor.
If you wind up in a situation where a court case in another country seems like the only option, you may want to consider looking into whether you might have a legal case within the United States. For example, if someone in Country X has infringed upon your copyright and then imported the infringement back into the United States you may have a case within the United States.
Protecting Your Copyright Before it is Infringed Upon
In order to avoid ending up with a legal case in another country begin your only option. What you can do is try to protect yourself on the front end. Some suggestions to do this include:
- State your claim! Register your copyright and use the copyright symbol (©), publication date, and copyright owner name on your work. While this won’t allow you to avoid a lawsuit in another country, it does put people on notice and therefore you may avoid some infringement cases.
- Include clear terms in any contract. This is especially true in regards to any terms about international use, import, and export. This way if there is a breach you can bring suit within the United States.
The global marketplace allows copyright infringement to occur on a grander scale than ever before. While there are legal protections in place in most countries they may not be feasible options to pursue. Make sure you take steps to protect your work before facing such a nasty situation.