International copyright law - The Berne Convention

Fact sheet P-08: The Berne Convention

Issued: 5th July 2004
Last amended: 6th December 2011

While details of copyright law will vary between nation states, the Berne Convention lays down a common framework and agreement between nations in respect to intellectual property rights.

  1. What is the Berne Convention?

    The full title is the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. It was first adopted in 1886 as an agreement to honour the rights of all authors who are nationals of countries that are party to the convention. The current version of the convention is the Paris Act of 1971. The convention is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization, (WIPO).

  2. Who does it apply to?

    The member countries form a Union, and the Act provides protection for the work of authors who are nationals of one of the countries of the Union, or where the work is first published (or simultaneously published) in a country that is a member of the Union.

    For the purposes of the Convention, persons who are not nationals, but which have their habitual residence in a country of the Union, will be regarded as a national of the country.

    The terms of the Convention also provide an incentive for countries that are not part of the Union to protect work by nationals of countries of the Union. It states that where a country outside the Union does not provide adequate protection to authors, countries of the Union are entitled to not extend protection to nationals of that country, beyond that which is granted by the country.

  3. Which countries are signed up to the convention?

    164 countries have signed up to the convention, a full list of signatories for Berne conventions may be found at the Copyright Aid web site.

  4. What rights are provided?

    An author from any country that is a signatory of the convention is awarded the same rights in all other countries that are signatories to the Convention as they allow their own nationals, as well as any rights granted by the Convention.

    The Convention also sets out a minimum duration that copyright will apply in various types of work.

    For the period of copyright, the copyright owner has the following exclusive rights. None of the actions below can be carried out without permission:

    • The right to authorise translations of the work.
    • The exclusive right to reproduce the work, though some provisions are made under national laws which typically allow limited private and educational use without infringement (as discussed on our page P-09: Copyright law, fair use).
    • The right to authorise public performance or broadcast, and the communication of broadcasts and public performances.
    • The right to authorise arrangements or other types of adaptation to the work.
    • Recitation of the work, (or of a translation of the work).
    • The exclusive right to adapt or alter the work.

    The author also has the following moral rights:

    • The author has the right to claim authorship
    • The right to object to any treatment of the work which would be ‘prejudicial to his honour or reputation’.
  5. Duration of rights

    Although the Berne Convention states a copyright duration, this is in fact the minimum period of protection that must be provided by signatory countries. The national laws of individual countries may (and often do) provide a longer copyright duration. For further details please see our fact sheet P-10: Copyright Duration.

  6. Further reading

    The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) provides a full text copy of the Berne Convention.

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