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Domestic laws of each country govern copyright, a type of intellectual property that protects creative work. However, copyright is also subject to international conventions, making it a global right enjoyed by creatives. You may intend to use or publish your work internationally. In that case, you may wonder how your Australian works will be protected internationally. This article will explain the purpose and importance of copyright and how your copyright is protected internationally.

What is the Purpose of Copyright?

In Australia, copyright is a free and automatic right provided to creators of works. It grants them specific legal and moral rights over their work. Copyright law fosters creative and cultural expression through artistic and literary mediums. It is a silent acknowledgement to all creatives, validating their social contributions and providing an avenue to monetise their work.

The regulation of copyright is also a means to provide improved public access to creative works. Copyright helps artworks to be installed in an art gallery or new books to be published. Copyright allows for these mediums to be available to us, by protecting them from misuse.

International Treaties Governing Copyright

Australia is a member country of two international copyright treaties that enforce rights surrounding copyright. These are the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC).

Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works 

The Berne Convention seeks to protect the rights of copyright holders by outlining standards of protection. The two major international principles underlying the Berne Convention are the principles of:

  • national treatment; and 
  • automatic protection.

The principle of national treatment provides that domestic courts of member countries apply domestic laws rather than foreign laws. Additionally, the principle of automatic protection grants copyright holders their rights even if it fails to satisfy certain formalities (i.e. paying for copyright registration in some countries). In Australia, you do not need to apply for copyright, but in some countries, you would. However, the Berne Convention gives you protection regardless once your work is in material form, so long as your copyright is valid in Australia.

The Berne Convention protects a wide range of material under copyright, including written work and visual artworks. Translations, adaptations, arrangements and collections of these works are also protected. This protection lasts until 70 years after the author’s death.

Suppose a creator of a work belongs to a country that is not a member of the Berne Convention. In that case, the Convention stipulates that the creator’s works are protected if the work was first or simultaneously produced or published in a member country. Additionally, the Berne Convention seeks to uphold a creator’s moral rights, which domestic legislation may not specifically protect. 

In short, in countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention, Australians can reap the benefits of copyright protection that they enjoy in Australia. Just as there are no registration requirements in Australia to receive copyright protection, the same applies in all countries party to the Berne Convention. You can find the full list of all participating member countries here

Universal Copyright Convention

Australia is also a party to the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) under the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It provides a lesser form of international protection than the Berne Convention. However, it is more flexible in terms of apportioning rights, particularly in the context of developing countries.

If Australians seek copyright protection in certain countries, it is important to remember that they will not always receive automatic protection. A member country of the UCC does not need to provide copyright protection for foreign works if they do not meet domestic requirements. It is always prudent to look into these requirements before publishing any work in countries that are members of the UCC but not the Berne Convention. Furthermore, the period of copyright protection differs from the Berne Convention. Under the UCC, copyright lasts for a minimum of 25 years beyond the author’s life. 

International Legal Enforcement

International organisations help protect your rights. However, countries must still enforce copyright protections under these international agreements. The enforcement of copyright rights is one of the features of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Agreement (or ‘TRIPS’ Agreement) under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (or ‘GATT’). The World Trade Organisation, of which Australia is a member, manages these agreements.

Under the GATT, member countries must implement international conventions they are signatory to within their domestic laws. This ensures that the rights of copyright holders are genuinely safe and that countries uphold their international agreements.

Key Takeaways

Australia is a signatory to the Berne Convention, which governs copyright protection internationally. Therefore, Australians who produce their work in member countries to the Berne Convention have the same rights overseas that they enjoy domestically. However, suppose you wish to produce your works in a country that is not a signatory to the Berne Convention. In that case, you must be aware of the differences in requirements to protect their works. If you have any questions about international copyright protections, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Berne Convention?

The Berne Convention is an agreement between many of the world’s countries, including Australia. It allows work that has copyright protection in Australia to have those same rights internationally.

How can I enforce against international copyright infringement?

There are various mechanisms to ensure that the provisions of the Berne Convention enter into domestic law in countries that are signatory. Therefore, you should be able to enforce against copyright infringement under the domestic copyright laws of the country where the infringement occurs.


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