International Copyright

Dealing with a copyright question within our own borders can be challenging enough, but once a foreign county is thrown into the mix, many novices and copyright experts alike have been known to back away. Yet many copyright questions about foreign works may be answered by keeping these simple propositions in mind:

Proposition 1: When in the U.S., apply U.S. law.

If you find and use the work while you are inside the borders of the United States, you should apply U.S. law. For example, the U.S. law of fair use applies to a foreign work as well as to a domestic work. It also means that the question of whether the foreign work is protected at all in the U.S. is a matter of U.S. law. Which takes us to the second point.

Proposition 2: Under U.S. law, works from most countries are protected under U.S. copyright.

The U.S. is a member of the Berne Convention and other multinational copyright agreements. As a result, signatory countries, such as the U.S., shall grant protection to works from the other Berne countries, which include most countries of the world.

These two propositions simplify the situation because there can exist many exceptions, conditions, details, and quirks, and they do not cover all possible situations. However, in common situations, these two propositions will hold true.

To learn more about copyright agreements and treaties between the U.S. and other countries, see: Many more resources are available on the Columbia "Links of Interest" page under "International Copyright." For further information, see the following: Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director.