An Introduction to International Copyright Issues

  1. What is copyright law?
  2. Why is international copyright law different?
  3. Who makes international copyright law?
  4. Why does international law interest libraries?
  5. How is ALA involved?
  6. Who else is involved?
  7. What happens next?

What is copyright law?
Copyright, whose concepts were established in the Constitution, is a unique area of the law that is concerned with both protecting an author's creative efforts as they are fixed into expressions of all forms and limiting this protection so that the creativity can be enjoyed, shared, and built upon by the public. Maintaining the balance between the needs of both authors and users remains a core value of U.S. copyright law. In the U.S., the competing interests of copyright holders and users of the creative material are primarily governed by a copyright system consisting of the 1976 Copyright Act, amendments or alterations to it and judicial interpretations of the Act.

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Why is international copyright law different?
International copyright law is concerned with the interplay of two or more nations' copyright systems. Each country has its own method of recognizing, granting and protecting copyrights. The individual nuances of each of the involved nation's copyright laws must be considered. For example, some countries do not have intellectual property laws at all; others grant more protections than the U.S. does. There is no such thing as an "international copyright" that unconditionally protects a work throughout the world. (See Related Links) Instead, the degree of protection a work is entitled to in a particular country depends on the law of that nation.

International law also involves international agreements (also known as conventions or treaties) that may simplify international copyright law by providing shared conditions for international copyright recognition. However, these agreements may also require the signatories to it to alter their domestic laws in order to comply with the terms of the international agreement. In fact, some of the most controversial pieces of U. S. legislation have passed in order to alter existing copyright law to comply with new international standards. (e.g. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998)

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Who makes international copyright law?
International agreements are generally negotiated and signed by representatives of international and national organizations from each of the involved nations. For example, when the U.S. negotiates international agreements, government entities such as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Copyright Office may represent U.S. interests. Generally, international agreements that relate to copyright law are referred to as international copyright treaties and are formed by international organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). See Related Links

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Why does international law interest libraries?
Recently, numerous international trade agreements and conventions have included provisions on copyright policies. These provisions concern the library community because many of them impose onto signatory nations (including the U.S.) obligations to pass copyright laws that ensure technological protection for copyrighted works. In many instances, these provisions appear to be more restrictive than existing U.S. copyright law as well as current international standards.

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What is ALA's involvement?
ALA continues to be involved in areas of international law that concern the library community. ALA has provided the USTR with feedback on drafts of proposed agreements (such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) Agreement). ALA and the other library associations have also provided supplementary information to negotiators and members of Congress on the issues of fair use and problems with current and proposed restrictions on the user-community.

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Who else is involved?
International trade agreements address a broad range of topics relating to trade issues. Accordingly, trade representatives and government organizations of each of the involved nations as well as members of each industry discussed in the respective trade agreement participate in negotiations. For example, one agreement might concern members of the oil, agricultural, health and drug industries as well as the intellectual property community. Libraries primarily focus on the copyright provisions within the intellectual property chapters of these agreements; other groups within the intellectual property community concentrate on international trademark or patent issues.

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What is the expected time frame?
International copyright law is constantly evolving as new technologies develop and new agreements are formed. International copyright law is also affected by ever-changing business relationships between trade partners and the dynamics of individual economies. As technology continues to advance rapidly, we can expect many agreements, conventions and new international laws concerning intellectual property to transpire quickly.

See also:
Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA)

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