Copyright abroad

Bill Russellis Head of Bilateral Relations at the UK Intellectual Property Office, the official government body responsible for intellectual property (IP) rights in the United Kingdom. 

What does copyright do?

Copyright gives the owner of a creative work the right to exclusively control and exploit its use.

It covers books, art, music and sound recordings, photographs, software, databases, films and print, radio and television ads and other promotional materials. Copyright protects the expression of, but not the idea behind a work. For example, the text in a manual is covered, but not the ideas conveyed in it.

How am I already covered overseas

Usually your copyright work will be protected abroad automatically in the same way that it is protected in the UK.

The UK is a member of several international conventions in the field of copyright:

  • Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
  • Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations
  • World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT)
  • WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT)
  • Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)

Copyright material created by UK nationals or residents and falling within the scope of one of these conventions is automatically protected in each member country of the convention by the national law of that country.

Most countries belong to at least the Berne Convention and/or TRIPS which is a World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement. The TRIPS Agreement obliges WTO members to comply with the Berne Convention (although some least developed countries have until 2021 to bring this into effect).

The Rome Convention and the WPPT provide some protection for performers, producers of sound recordings and broadcasters, while the WCT enhances certain protection provided by the Berne Convention. The number of countries that are members of these conventions is more limited than Berne/TRIPS.

A list of countries that belong to the different conventions is available from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the WTO (for TRIPS). Most countries (including all European states) belong to the Berne Convention and/or TRIPS.

The Berne Convention provides that works will receive automatic protection without formality. However, you may choose to mark your work with the international © symbol, followed by the name of the copyright owner and year in which the work was created. In some countries (such as the USA), there is an official register of copyright which you might want to use, although registration is not an essential condition for copyright to subsist in any Berne/TRIPS member country.

You can find more information about copyright and other IP rights on the Intellectual Property Office’s web site. For free IP training, try the interactive IP Equip tool.

Topics: Protecting IP Abroad
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