Protecting your intellectual property abroad
Protecting copyright abroad
There is no such thing as an international copyright law. Details of national laws may vary from country to country, but basic rights will be the same for most due to international conventions and agreements that set minimum standards for the protection of rights of the creators of copyrighted works around the world.
In most cases, protection of your copyright work abroad will be automatic in the same way UK protection works.
Key conventions and agreements relating to copyright
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 (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.
Level of copyright protection
Most countries (including all European Union Member States) belong to at least the Berne Convention and/or TRIPS which is a World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement:
- The Berne Convention is the main international convention governing copyright. It lays down the minimum standards of protection (in relation to the types of works protected, rights granted and the term of protection) that all contracting states must incorporate in their national laws and extend to foreign artists and authors. In some countries, specific rules may apply that alter or add to the minimum standards set by the Berne Convention.
- The TRIPS Agreement obliges WTO members to comply with the same principles of national treatment and automatic protection for copyright as the Berne Convention.
The Rome Convention and the WPPT provide some protection for performers, producers of sound recordings and broadcasters, while the WTC enhances certain protection provided by the Berne Convention. The number of countries that are members of these conventions is more limited than Berne/TRIPS. Find a list of countries that belong to the different conventions:
Protection of copyright in Europe
In the EU, each of the Member State has its own copyright law and policy. However, copyright is largely harmonised by a body of EU directives and regulations that build on the aforementioned international treaties. The aim of harmonisation is to enable copyright protected goods and services to move freely within the internal market. Find details of the EU's regulatory framework for copyright.
A substantial part of UK copyright law was derived from the EU law when the UK was a member state. Some areas of UK copyright law have therefore been affected by EU Exit. For current information, see: changes to copyright law from 1 January 2021.
The Berne Convention provides that works will receive automatic protection without formality (ie registration). However, you may choose to use a copyright notice - marking your work with the international © symbol, followed by the name of the copyright owner and year in which the work was created.
Some countries allow for voluntary national registration/deposit of works protected by copyright, which can prove beneficial in some situations. For example, saving time and money in the case of a dispute. Other countries, such as the US, have an official register of copyright which you might want to use.
Registration is not an essential condition for copyright to subsist in any Berne/TRIPS member country. See more on copyright for your business.
Collective licensing at an international level
It can be difficult to monitor your copyright on a worldwide scale. In many countries, copyright collective management organisations (CMOs), also known as collecting societies, can:
- agree licences with users on behalf of copyright owners
- collect any royalties the owners are owed
- distribute these royalties back to rightsholders
Find out more about licensing bodies and collecting societies.
CMOs in the European Economic Area (EEA) are no longer required to represent UK right holders or the catalogues of UK CMOs for online licensing of rights. You can still request representation, but EEA CMOs may be free to refuse depending on the law in individual Member State. See: collective rights management from 1 January 2021.