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International Protection of Copyright and Neighboring Rights

Protected Works

The subject matter of copyright is usually described as "literary and artistic works," that is, original creations in the fields of literature and arts. The form in which such works are expressed may be words, symbols, music, pictures, three-dimensional objects, or combinations thereof (as in the case of an opera or a motion picture). Practically all national copyright laws provide for the protection of the following types of works:

literary works: novels, short stories, poems, dramatic works and any other writings, irrespective of their content (fiction or non-fiction), length, purpose (amusement, education, information, advertisement, propaganda, etc.), form (handwritten, typed, printed; book, pamphlet, single sheets, newspaper, magazine); whether published or unpublished; in most countries computer programs and "oral works," that is, works not reduced to writing, are also protected by the copyright law;

musical works: whether serious or light; songs, choruses, operas, musicals, operettas; if for instruments, whether for one instrument (solos), a few instruments (sonatas, chamber music, etc.) or many (bands, orchestras);

choreographic works;

artistic works: whether two-dimensional (drawings, paintings, etchings, lithographs, etc.) or three-dimensional (sculptures, architectural works), irrespective of their content (representational or abstract) and destination ("pure" art, for advertisement, etc.);

maps and technical drawings;

photographic works: irrespective of the subject matter (portraits, landscapes, current events, etc.) and the purpose for which made;

audiovisual works (formerly mainly called "motion pictures" or "cinematographic works"): even where silent, and irrespective of their purpose (theatrical exhibition, television broadcasting, etc.), their genre (film dramas, documentaries, newsreels, etc.), length, method employed (filming "live", cartoons, etc.), or technical process used (pictures on transparent film, on electronic videotapes, etc.).

Some copyright laws also provide for the protection of derivative works (translations, adaptations) and collections (compilations) of works and mere data (data bases), collections where they, by reason of the selection and arrangement of the contents, constitute intellectual creations [1].

Many copyright laws also contain provisions for the protection of "works of applied art" (artistic jewelry, lamps, wallpaper, furniture, etc.).

Some copyright laws provide that computer programs are to be protected as literary works [2].

In certain countries, mainly in countries with common law legal traditions, the notion "copyright" has a wider meaning than "author's rights" and, in addition to literary and artistic works, also extends to the producers of sound recordings (phonograms, whether disks or tapes), to the broadcasters of broadcasts and the creators of distinctive typographical arrangements of publications.

As regards the number of literary and artistic works created worldwide, it is difficult to make a precise estimate. However, the information available indicates that at present around 1,000,000 books/titles are published and some 5,000 feature films are produced in a year, and the number of copies of phonograms sold per year presently is more than 3,000 million.

Rights Recognized

Copyright protection generally means that certain uses of the work are lawful only if they are done with the authorization of the owner of the copyright. The most typical are the following: the right to copy or otherwise reproduce any kind of work; the right to distribute copies to the public; the right to rent copies of at least certain categories of works (such as computer programs and audiovisual works); the right to make sound recordings of the performances of literary and musical works; the right to perform in public, particularly musical, dramatic or audiovisual works; the right to communicate to the public by cable or otherwise the performances of such works and, particularly, to broadcast, by radio, television or other wireless means, any kind of work; the right to translate literary works; the right to rent, particularly, audiovisual works, works embodied in phonograms and computer programs; the right to adapt any kind of work and particularly the right to make audiovisual works thereof.

Under some national laws, some of these rights-which together are referred to as "economic rights"-are not exclusive rights of authorization but, in certain specific cases, merely rights to remuneration; such is the case, in certain countries and under certain circumstances, for the right to make sound recordings of musical works and the right to broadcast any kinds of works. Some strictly determined uses (for example, quotations, the use of works by way of illustration for teaching, or the use of articles on political or economic matters in other newspapers) are completely free, that is, they require neither the authorization of, nor remuneration for, the owner of the copyright.

In addition to economic rights, authors (whether or not they own the economic rights) enjoy "moral rights" on the basis of which authors have the right to claim their authorship and require that their names be indicated on the copies of the work and in connection with other uses thereof, and they have the right to oppose the mutilation or deformation of their works.

The owner of copyright may generally transfer his right or may license certain uses of his work. Moral rights are, however, generally inalienable although their exercise may be waived by the author.

Protected Persons

Copyright generally vests in the author of the work. Certain laws provide for exceptions and, for example, regard the employer as the original owner of copyright if the author was, when the work was created, an employee and was employed for the very purpose of creating the work. In the case of certain types of works, particularly audiovisual works, certain national laws provide for different solutions to the question who should be the first owner of copyright in such works.

Acquisition of Copyright

The laws of almost all countries provide that protection is independent of any formalities, that is, copyright protection starts as soon as the work is created.


Copyright protection is limited in time. Many countries have adopted, as a general rule, a term of protection that starts at the time of the creation of the work and ends 50 years (in some countries, 70 years) after the death of the author. However, in some countries, there are exceptions either for certain kinds of works (e.g., photographs, audiovisual works) or for certain uses (e.g., translations).

International Protection

The laws of a State relating to copyright are generally concerned only with acts accomplished or committed in the State itself. Consequently, they cannot provide for the protection of the State's citizens in another State.

It was in order to guarantee protection in foreign States for their own citizens that, in 1886, 10 States established the International Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works by signing the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Today, its membership is more than 10 times larger [3].

[1] According to the TRIPS Agreement, compilations of data or other material, whether in machine-readable or other form, which by reason of the selection or arrangement of their contents constitute intellectual creations must be protected.

[2] So does also the TRIPS Agreement.

[3] International protection for copyright and certain neighboring rights is also provided for by the TRIPS Agreement.