Protecting your intellectual property abroad

Copyright protection overseas

Guide

Copyright is a national right that each country provides separately. It is largely harmonised internationally by a number of treaties and, in the EU, by a body of EU copyright legislation. In the UK, copyright law is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, as amended.

From 1 January 2021, most UK copyright works (such as books, films and music) will still be protected in the EU because of the UK's participation in the international treaties on copyright. For the same reason, EU copyright works will continue to be protected in the UK. However, some areas of copyright law will be affected by EU Exit from 1 January 2021. For current information on these, see: changes to copyright law from 1 January 2021.

Protection of copyright work abroad

In most cases, protection of your copyright work abroad will be automatic. The UK is a member of several international conventions in the field of copyright, including:

  • 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 
  • WIPO Copyright Treaty 
  • 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.

Copyright registers

International conventions provide for works to 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. It can be good practice to do this as a matter of course.

In some countries (such as the US), 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.

See more on copyright for your business.

Collective management

It can be difficult to monitor your copyright on a worldwide scale. You may want to register with a collecting society or organisation - these are organisations which offer licences for the use of copyright work. They ensure that copyright creators receive payment for the use of their copyright material. Read about licensing bodies and collecting societies.

In light of the EU Exit, EEA collective management organisations may not automatically represent UK right holders and collective management organisations from 1 January 2021. For current information, see: collective rights management from 1 January 2021.