The internet makes almost every copyright issue an international copyright issue. Why? People can access, use and internationally share copyright-protected content they find online. The bottom line is that librarians need to understand how domestic copyright law works in their libraries and organizations, and they must also be familiar with international copyright law implications.
With the internet, libraries and enterprises face a myriad of copyright issues in situations from posting an audio recording on their website or on social media, to a patron or researcher accessing a licensed database from abroad. Librarians need to acquire the knowledge and skills to recognize and act on global copyright issues.
The following are some key points to help librarians and information professionals grapple with international copyright issues.
#1: Domestic Copyright Law likely Governs the Majority of your Copyright Issues.
It is likely that the majority of copyright issues a librarian deals with are domestic in nature. Know as much as possible about your country’s copyright law will help you in dealing with international copyright situations.
#2: Copyright Laws Vary from Country to Country.
Even a country as close as Canada and the U.S. have very different copyright laws. For example, the duration of copyright protection is 20 years longer in the U.S. than in Canada, and moral rights protection (right of attribution for example) is much stronger in Canada than in the U.S.
#3: There’s No Such Thing as International Copyright Law.
Yes, that heading is right: there is no overarching international copyright law. However, there are copyright treaties and the leading one is the Berne Convention. It’s up to the Berne member countries (176 at this time) to amend their laws to meet the minimum standards required for membership in this most important copyright treaty.
#4. National Treatment is an Underlying Principle of the Berne Convention.
The national treatment principle means that you apply the copyright law of the country in which a protected work is being used. For example, if you digitize an image in the U.S., you apply U.S. copyright law to determine if you need permission prior to doing so. If you digitize the same image while in Australia, you consult and apply Australian law to determine if permission is necessary. In both cases, the fact that the image may have been created by a photographer in Canada is not a consideration. It’s the location of use, not creation, that governs which country’s copyright law applies.
#5. Copyright Duration Varies Even Among Berne Member Countries.
Berne’s minimum standard for copyright protection is 50 years from the author’s death. However, Berne members are free to provide greater protection than its minimum requirements.
The U.S. and European Union countries, among others, protect copyright works for the life of the author plus 70 years after their death. If you are in a country where the copyright duration is 50 years after the author’s death, such as Canada, consider the principle of national treatment when using a work on a globally accessible website. In this situation, you’ll most likely clear the rights for life-plus-seventy to “cover yourself” for access to your online works from the U.S. and other countries with the longer duration of copyright protection.
#6. Moral Rights are as Important as Economic Rights and Vary Among Countries.
Moral rights are separate from economic rights. Each Berne member country must provide for moral rights of paternity and integrity. Countries are free to go beyond these minimums and provide further rights. Other differences in moral rights pertain to whether authors may waive their rights, the duration of moral rights, and what the author’s moral rights protect. In the U.S. moral rights protect only one group of authors: visual artists, or more accurately, those who create specific “works of visual art.”
#7. The International Knowledge Librarians Need Goes Beyond Statutes and Treaties.
Understanding international copyright issues also entails an understanding of how license agreements work. Many licenses have clauses that require an understanding of global situations and how international copyright comes into play.
For further information on international copyright law, see Copyrightlaws.com.
Stay tuned for links to Lesley Ellen Harris’ Copyright Laws and Leadership webinar video!