International Agreements Concerning Copyright that Govern the Area of Copyright

The first treaty is the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. It dates back to 1886, but has been revised several times, typically at about 20-year intervals. The latest version was adopted in Paris in 1971.

The Berne Convention deals with the protection of copyright. It is based on principles such as that of national treatment, meaning that under national law you cannot discriminate against works from other countries party to the Convention. It lays down very important minimum protection standards that have to be met by national law, although of course national law can go further – and establishes various other principles.

Recently, we had the TRIPS Agreement. This is the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which is one of the Agreements that emerged from the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations and is administered by the World Trade Organization.

The TRIPS Agreement among other things contains a reference to the substantive provisions of the Berne Convention, leaving aside moral rights, which are not considered trade-related.  In order to comply with the TRIPS Agreement, countries have to comply with the provisions of the Berne Convention for a start, after which there are a number of additional norms of protection that are introduced by the TRIPS Agreement, most importantly regarding new types of creations (computer programs and original databases) and new forms of exploitation (right of rental).

So countries that acceded to or ratified the TRIPS Agreement must also comply with the Berne Convention (although Berne’s Article 6bis on moral rights is specifically excluded in the TRIPS language, as it does not concern trade by virtue of the moral right’s inalienable nature); in addition the TRIPS Agreement seeks to address aspects of copyright relating to new technologies.

Diplomatic Conference was held, which concluded the newest international agreement protecting copyright: the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT).  This treaty responded to the need to protect works when transmitted by digital means, including via the Internet. The subject matter to be protected through copyright by the WCT includes that of computer programs, whatever may be the mode or form of their expression, and compilations of data or other material, (databases) in any form, which by reason of the selection or arrangement of their content constitute intellectual creations.  The rights of authors include the previously mentioned rights of distribution, rental, and communication to the public, and it is made clear that the right of communication to the public covers the transmission of works through digital networks such as the Internet.  It is also stated that the right of reproduction as set out in the Berne Convention, fully applies in the digital environment. Hence the storage of a work in digital form in an electronic medium (for example by storing it in a computer memory) should constitute a reproduction of that work. These rights, as is normal, are subject to certain limitations and


Another treaty was concluded at that same Diplomatic Conference, which was designated the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT).  That treaty is discussed in the Related Rights.

Posted in IPR