Berne Convention

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The Berne Convention, adopted at Berne in 1886, first established the recognition of copyrights between sovereign nations. Prior to the adoption of the Berne Convention, nations would often refuse to recognize the works of foreign nationals as copyrighted. Thus, for instance, a work published in London by a British national would be protected by copyright in the United Kingdom, but freely reproducible by France; likewise, a work published in Paris by a French national would be protected by copyright in France, but freely reproducible in the United Kingdom.

The Berne Convention provided that each contracting state would recognize as copyrighted works authored by nationals of other contracting states. Copyright under the Berne Convention is automatic: no registration is required, nor is the inclusion of a copyright notice. The Berne Convention provided for a minimum term of copyright protection of the life of the author plus fifty years, but parties were free to provide longer terms of copyright protection, as the United States did with its Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998.

The United States refused initially to become a party to the Convention, since it would have required major changes in its copyright law. Thus the Universal Copyright Convention was adopted in 1952, to cater to its objections. However, the United States later made the necessary changes, and became a party to the Berne Convention in 1988. Thus the Berne Convention has today superseded the Universal Copyright Convention for all practical purposes.

The provisions of the Berne Convention are supplemented by the WIPO Copyright Treaty of 1996, which concerns computer programs, databases, and technological copy protection measures.