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Global Copyright

Copyright is a creation of law in each country, and therefore there is no such thing as an international copyright law. Nevertheless, more than 160 countries have ratified a treaty – the Berne Convention, administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – that sets a minimum set of standards for the protection of the rights of the creators of copyrighted works around the world. In addition, there have been efforts to harmonize copyright law in Europe and other regions. The differences in national copyright laws, however, can represent a challenge for global organizations with employees working in different countries and sharing content across boundaries.

Different Types of Rights

Most national copyright laws recognize two different types of rights within copyright: Moral rights and economic rights.

Moral rights refer to the idea that a copyrighted work is an expression of the personality and humanity of its author or creator. They include:

  • The right to be identified as the author of a work,
  • The right of integrity (that is, the right to forbid alteration, mutilation or distortion of the work), and
  • The right of first divulgation (that is, making public) of the work.

Moral rights cannot always be transferred by the creator to a third party, and some of them do not expire in certain countries.

Countries in the Anglo-American tradition, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, tend to minimize the existence of moral rights in favor of an emphasis on economic rights in copyright.

Economic or exploitation rights recognize the right of the holder to use, to authorize use of, or to prohibit the use of, a work, and to set the conditions for its use. Different specific uses (or “acts of exploitation”) of a work can be treated separately, meaning that the rightsholder can deal with each right (including using, transferring, licensing or selling the right) on an individual type-of-use basis. Economic rights typically include:

  • The right of reproduction (for instance, making copies by digital or analogue means),
  • The right of distribution by way of tangible copies (for example, selling, renting or lending of copies),
  • The right of communication to the public (including public performance, public display and dissemination over digital networks like the Internet), and
  • The right of transformation (including the adaptation or translation of a text work).

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