The Berne Convention

The Berne Convention, or to use its formal title ‘Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works’ is an international agreement which sets out to harmonize the way that copyright is regulated at an international level.

The convention was first adopted in 1886 in Berne, Switzerland (hence the name), and since that time it has seen much change and revision: Completed at Paris (1896), revised at Berlin (1908), completed at Berne (1914), revised at Rome (1928), at Brussels (1948), at Stockholm (1967) and at Paris (1971), and amended in 1979.

Prior to the Berne Convention (and to a lesser degree the Universal Copyright Convention [UCC]), copyright law would usually only apply at a national level. This often meant that the outside of the author’s home country, there was very little protection for copyright work.

As you will see from the list of Berne Convention signotories, most nations have adopted the convention. Additionally, the TRIPs Agreement requires all World Trade Organization members to accept almost all of the conditions of the Berne Convention.

How does the convention work?

The Berne Convention requires member nations to offer the same protection to authors from other member countries that it provides to its own nationals. It also sets out a common framework of protection, and specifies minimum protection levels that are required.

Basic stipulations

The Berne Convention states that all works shall be protected for at least 50 years after the author's death with the following exceptions

  1. For photography the minimum term is 25 years from the year the photograph was created
  2. For cinematography the minimum term is 50 years after first showing, or, if the work has never been shown, 50 years from the creation date.

Note: These are the minimum terms of protection. Countries are free to provide longer terms of protection under national law. In the UK for example the standard period of protection is 70 years from the death of the author.