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The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which concluded in 1886, was developed to synchronize laws regarding the protection of intellectual property, internationally. The plan was for member countries to have similar minimum standards of protection for copyright.

The Convention is headed by the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations.

The Berne Convention is significant because it enforces treaties which protect intellectual property, such as copyright. This means it helps promote creativity, fair trade, and economic and social development.

Two Basic Principles of the Berne Convention

1. The Principal of National Treatment

An artist who either lives in a member country, or first publishes in a member country must be given the same copyright protection in each of the other member countries as that member country grants to its own nationals. For example: If you publish a novel in the U.S, and someone in Australia distributes copies of it without your permission, you could pursue an infringement case as if you were an Australian citizen.

2. Automatic Protection

Copyright protection in Bern Convention countries is automatically granted the moment the expression is put in a fixed form and does not require registration or marking it with the copyright notice, although both are highly recommended for added protection. Note: when the United States joined the convention in 1989, they continued to make statutory damages and attorney’s fees only available for registered works. However, this does not apply for works not originating in the U.S.

Minimum Standards of the Berne Convention


There are a number of minimum standards for the rights protected through the Berne Convention. These include the rights to translate work, make adaption and arrangements to the work, perform the work, and the right to reproduce the work.

Moral Rights

There is also something called “Moral Rights” where the author has the right to claim authorship of the work and the right to refute any adjustment or action that “would be prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation”.

Duration of Protection

All works that fall under copyright are protected for at least 50 years after the calendar year of the author’s death. There are two exceptions, however, to this rule. They are: Photography — minimum term is 25 years from the year the photograph was created; Cinematography — minimum term is 50 years after the first showing or, if the work has never been shown, 50 year from the creation date.

Although the minimum duration of copyright is 50 years, some countries have expanded this period of time to 70 years after the creator’s passing.


The above information is meant as a general guide to further your copyright knowledge and does not constitute legal advice. For questions about your specific work, you should consult a copyright lawyer in your country.