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Berne Convention

by Ben McLane, Esq.

Within the now global span of the entertainment industry, any artist or songwriter must be aware that his of her works might be utilized worldwide. This being the case, international copyright protection is important. These days it is not uncommon to hear the term "The Berne Convention" ("Berne") uttered in the same breath as copyright. Yet, what is Berne? This article will give the reader a general overview of how Berne affects copyright.

Actually, there is no such thing as an international copyright that will automatically protect an artist's creation worldwide. Copyright protection basically depends upon the laws of the country in which a person lives (e.g., the U.S.). However, most civilized countries do offer protection against infringement of foreign works. Berne is an attempt to simplify international copyright protection by bringing together several nations (there are now 79 members) into a union whose goal is to protect copyrights throughout the world. The United States effectively became a member of that union on March 1, 1989. The basic principles of Berne are to (1) bring about better worldwide copyright protection against infringement and piracy; (2) the promotion of international uniform copyright legislation; and (3) the elimination of discrimination against foreign copyrights.

Member nations of Berne agree to a certain minimum level of copyright protection for the other participating countries. In other words, the U.S. makes available to its citizens copyright protection in foreign countries according to the laws of that foreign member nation. Likewise, foreign works covered by Berne will receive copyright protection under the U.S. copyright law. When the U.S. became a member nation, it amended its own copyright law so that it would not conflict with the rules of Berne.

It is important to remember that the articles of Berne do not per se confer any rights (i.e., one cannot sue someone under Berne). The laws of the individual country in which protection is sought still control. However, if that country happens to be a "Berne" nation, it will be obligated to protect the foreign work to some extent. Remember, many countries are not members of "Berne" (China and the Soviet Union for instance), and some countries offer little or no copyright protection at all.

Since there is a strong likelihood that any record or song might end up being exploited in a foreign country, the creator should understand how his or her rights will be affected in that foreign country, especially if there is evidence that the work is being stolen, distorted or pirated. Berne offers the best assurance, at this writing, for copyright protection worldwide.

Copyright 1998, Ben McLane
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