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An artist or author cannot apply for an international copyright. Instead, the work is most likely protected under one or both of two accepted conventions that have been created to protect creative works. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the Universal Copyright Convention are both international copyright agreements agreed upon by many of the world’s governments. Member countries of the World Trade Organization also follow the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which governs international copyright.
An author, artist, or other creator of a copyrighted work can seek international copyright protection under either the Berne Convention or the Universal Copyright Convention so long as the creator is a citizen or resident of a country that recognizes these conventions. Protection under the Berne Convention requires no special action on the part of the creator. Under the Universal Copyright Convention, the creator must place the international copyright symbol, a letter c inside a circle, in a prominent and visible place on the created object to be protected.
The Berne Convention was first signed in Berne, Switzerland in 1886. It requires that all cooperating countries recognize the international copyright of all literary and artistic works created by citizens of countries that have signed the convention. More than 160 countries have signed the convention, including the U.S., Australia, and Canada.
Under the Berne Convention, foreign authors and artists gain the same protection for their work as natives of the country would receive. The copyright protection is automatically applied without the need for any sort of application. The convention sets minimums on how long a copyright must last. Minimums are set at 50 years after the author’s death for literary works, 25 years from creation for photography, and 50 years from creation for motion pictures.
The Universal Copyright Convention was created as an alternative form of international copyright to the Berne Convention. It allows individual countries to require registration of copyright if they so choose. It also allows for the creation of fixed and renewable terms of copyright protection. Many countries are members of both forms of international copyright protection.
With the rise of the World Trade Organization (WTO), another source of international copyright protection was established. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights must be followed by all members of the WTO. Much like the Berne Convention, it sets term minimums and offers automatic protection without any application for copyright.