Berne Convention

Berne Convention
Berne Convention for the
Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
refer to caption
Ratifications of the Convention (blue) as of 2012
Signed9 September 1886
LocationBerne, Switzerland
Effective5 December 1887
Condition3 months after exchange of ratifications
DepositaryDirector General of the World Intellectual Property Organization
Languagessigned in French (prevailing in case of differences in interpretation) and English, officially translated in Arabic, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish
Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works at Wikisource

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, usually known as the Berne Convention, is an international agreement governing copyright, which was first accepted in Berne, Switzerland, in 1886.[1]

The Berne Convention formally mandated several aspects of modern copyright law; it introduced the concept that a copyright exists the moment a work is "fixed", rather than requiring registration. It also enforces a requirement that countries recognize copyrights held by the citizens of all other parties to the convention.


The Berne Convention requires its parties to treat the copyright of works of authors from other parties to the convention (known as members of the Berne Union) at least as well as those of its own nationals. For example, French copyright law applies to anything published or performed in France, regardless of where it was originally created.

In addition to establishing a system of equal treatment that harmonised copyright amongst parties, the agreement also required member states to provide strong minimum standards for copyright law.

Copyright under the Berne Convention must be automatic; it is prohibited to require formal registration. However, when the United States joined the Convention 1 March 1989,[2] it continued to make statutory damages and attorney's fees only available for registered works.

However, in Moberg v Leygues, a 2009 decision of a Delaware Federal District Court, decided that the protections of the Berne Convention are supposed to essentially be "frictionless," meaning no registration requirements can be imposed on a work from a different Berne member country. This means Berne member countries can require works originating in their own country to be registered and/or deposited, but cannot require these formalities of works from other Berne member countries.[3]


Under Article 3, the protection of the Convention applies to nationals and residents of countries that are party to the convention, and to works first published or simultaneously published (under Article 3(4), "simultaneously" is defined as "within 30 days"[4]) in a country that is party to the convention.[4] Under Article 4, it also applies to cinematic works by persons who have their headquarters or habitual residence in a party country, and to architectural works situated in a party country.[5]

Country of origin

The Convention relies on the concept of "country of origin". Often determining the country of origin is straightforward: when a work is published in a party country and nowhere else, this is the country of origin. However, under Article 5(4), when a work is published simultaneously in several party countries (under Article 3(4), "simultaneously" is defined as "within 30 days"[4]), the country with the shortest term of protection is defined as the country of origin.[6]

For works simultaneously published in a party country and one or more non-parties, the party country is the country of origin. For unpublished works or works first published in a non-party country (without publication within 30 days in a party country), the author's nationality usually provides the country of origin, if a national of a party country. (There are exceptions for cinematic and architectural works.)[6]

In the Internet age, unrestricted publication online may be considered publication in every sufficiently internet-connected jurisdiction in the world. It is not clear what this may mean for determining "country of origin". In Kernel v. Mosley, a U.S. court "concluded that a work created outside of the United States, uploaded in Australia and owned by a company registered in Finland was nonetheless a U.S. work by virtue of its being published online". However other U.S. courts in similar situations have reached different conclusions, e.g. Håkan Moberg v. 33T LLC.[7] The matter of determining the country of origin for digital publication remains a topic of controversy among law academics as well.[8]

Copyright term

The Berne Convention states that all works except photographic and cinematographic shall be copyrighted for at least 50 years after the author's death, but parties are free to provide longer terms,[9] as the European Union did with the 1993 Directive on harmonising the term of copyright protection. For photography, the Berne Convention sets a minimum term of 25 years from the year the photograph was created, and for cinematography the minimum is 50 years after first showing, or 50 years after creation if it hasn't been shown within 50 years after the creation. Countries under the older revisions of the treaty may choose to provide their own protection terms, and certain types of works (such as phonorecords and motion pictures) may be provided shorter terms.

If the author is unknown, because for example the author was deliberately anonymous or worked under a pseudonym, the Convention provides for a term of 50 years after publication ("after the work has been lawfully made available to the public"). However, if the identity of the author becomes known, the copyright term for known authors (50 years after death) applies.[9]

Although the Berne Convention states that the copyright law of the country where copyright is claimed shall be applied, Article 7(8) states that "unless the legislation of that country otherwise provides, the term shall not exceed the term fixed in the country of origin of the work",[9] i.e., an author is normally not entitled a longer copyright abroad than at home, even if the laws abroad give a longer term. This is commonly known as "the rule of the shorter term". Not all countries have accepted this rule.

The minimum standards of protection relate to the works and rights to be protected

As to works, protection must include "every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever the mode or form of its expression" (Article 2(1) of the Convention).

Subject to certain allowed reservations, limitations or exceptions, the following are among the rights that must be recognized as exclusive rights of authorization:

  • the right to translate,
  • the right to make adaptations and arrangements of the work,
  • the right to perform in public dramatic, dramatico-musical and musical works,
  • the right to recite literary works in public,
  • the right to communicate to the public the performance of such works,
  • the right to broadcast (with the possibility that a Contracting State may provide for a mere right to equitable remuneration instead of a right of authorization),
  • the right to make reproductions in any manner or form (with the possibility that a Contracting State may permit, in certain special cases, reproduction without authorization, provided that the reproduction does not conflict with the normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author; and the possibility that a Contracting State may provide, in the case of sound recordings of musical works, for a right to equitable remuneration),
  • the right to use the work as a basis for an audiovisual work, and the right to reproduce, distribute, perform in public or communicate to the public that audiovisual work.

Copyright exceptions and limitations

The Berne Convention does not explicitly authorize countries to permit "fair uses" of copyrighted works in other publications or broadcasts in a broad sense.[10] Berne only permits a limited form of copyright exceptions and limitations known as the "three-step test." Copyright exceptions permitted by the Berne Convention are scattered in several provisions due to the historical reason of Berne negotiations. For example, Article 10(2) permits Berne members to provide for a "teaching exception" within their copyright statutes. But this exception is limited to a use for illustration of the subject matter taught and it must be related to teaching activities.[11] In other words, a broad exception in a manner similar to the "fair use" jurisprudence of American copyright law is not expressly permitted by Berne. Nevertheless, the WTO Panel has ruled, in United State - Section 110(5) of the U.S. Copyright Act, that although the three-step test under both Berne and TRIPs required a "certain and well-defined exception," this did not rule out open norms such as the US copyright law.

The Agreed Statement of the parties to the WIPO Copyright Treaty of 1996 states that: "It is understood that the mere provision of physical facilities for enabling or making a communication does not in itself amount to communication within the meaning of this Treaty or the Berne Convention."[12] This language may mean that Internet service providers are not liable for the infringing communications of their users.[12] Critics claim that the convention does not mention any other rights of consumers of works except for fair use.[13]

There is a legal debate about whether the U.S. Fair Use doctrine is lawful under the Three-step test.[14]

Other Languages
العربية: اتفاقية برن
한국어: 베른 협약
עברית: אמנת ברן
Tiếng Việt: Công ước Bern