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The development of international copyright

Intellectual property (IP) is essentially about national law, with international obligations. Within the UK, IP does not form a part of devolution for Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, and so UK IP law and policy comes from Westminster. However, as a member of the European Union, the UK must implement EU law as it relates to IP (and in many other areas). Further afield, international IP law generally adheres to two principles:

  • National treatment – the idea that treaty members give the nationals of other treaty members the same rights as their own citizens.

  • Minimum standards – international IP treaties often harmonise IP law by setting minimum standards that members must meet by implementing them in their own law (a floor, but not a ceiling, of standards).

The key questions in terms of ‘on the ground’ IP protection usually depend most closely on what the relevant IP law is in the relevant national jurisdiction and not on international law such as EU law or international treaties. This is because how a jurisdiction has implemented its obligation for complying with its international obligations (EU or otherwise) for minimum standards differs between jurisdictions.

So, for example, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works requires in Article 7(1) that members grant copyright protection for the life of the author plus 50 years after his or her death. Some Berne members leave protection at ‘life+50’, while others, such as the European Union (including the UK) and the United States, set the term at ‘life+70’. They are free to do this because Berne only sets ‘life+50’ as a minimum standard. National treatment means that the UK must grant their higher ‘life+70’ standard to all works produced in Berne member jurisdictions, regardless of where they are from.

See also http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/berne/trtdocs_wo001.html

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