LETTERS OF THE LAW: US Copyrights and International Protection

by James Napper, III on August 8, 2014

Letters-of-the-Law-Header-webThis article originally ran in the January/February 2014 issue of Scene Magazine.

In Letters of the Law, entertainment attorney James Napper, III discusses legal topics and answers questions submitted by Scene Magazine readers, both entertainment professionals and the general public. Submit your legal questions to lettersoflaw@scenelouisiana.com. To contact James Napper directly, email jnapper@napperlaw.com or visit www.napperlaw.com.

Q: The film industry is an increasingly global industry. Can having a US Copyright on my screenplay protect my intellectual property throughout the world, or is it limited to protection in the US only? 

Indeed, the exploitation and distribution of film, television and new media is a global industry, and this presents a wonderful opportunity to discuss copyright from an international perspective. The short and simple answer is, yes, qualification of a work under the copyright laws of the United States should provide protection for your work internationally, or at least in the major international markets you are most likely concerned with, including China. There are two principle international conventions providing for copyright internationally, the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention.

The Berne Convention is an international agreement governing copyright, first accepted in Berne, Switzerland in 1886. The Berne Convention requires that its signatory countries recognize the copyrighted of works of authors from other signatory countries in the same way as it recognizes copyright protection of its own citizens. The Berne Convention established a system of international copyright protection and also caused many countries to raise their standard for copyright protection. Under the Berne Convention, copyright protection must be automatic upon the creation of a qualifying work and it is prohibited to require formal registration for protection. Protection under this agreement applies to nationals and residents of signatory countries, as well as to works first published or simultaneously published in a signatory country. Further, it applies to a cinematic work created by a person having their headquarters in or a habitual residence in a signatory country.

Currently, there are 167 countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention. Interestingly, the United States initially refused to become a party to the Berne Convention because it would have required significant changes to US copyright law, including removal of a formal registration requirement and fixed terms for protection. However, in 1989, the US became a signatory to the Berne Convention.

The other international agreement governing copyright protection is the Universal Copyright Convention. The UCC was developed in 1952 as an alternative to the Berne Convention for those countries that disagreed with the Berne Convention. The UCC, unlike the Berne Convention, permits countries that have a system requiring fixed terms for copyright or registration similar to the previous U.S copyright law to retain those systems and still be a participant in the UCC.
With all that said, the simple answer is, yes, a motion picture created and entitled to copyright protection in the U.S. will receive protection in countries that are parties to the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention.

For a more in-depth look at how to protect your copyrights, please take a look back at past issues of Scene Magazine at www.scenelouisiana.com.

About James Napper, III
A Louisiana-based attorney who specializes in intellectual property and entertainment law, James Napper, III, J.D., LL.M. is a graduate of the The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he studied intellectual property law. He is a recipient of the Stephen T. Victory Memorial Award for “Who Dat: The NFL, New Orleans, and the Implications of LSU v. Smack Apparel,” and the author of “Life as Art: How Technology and the Infusion of Music Into Daily Life Spurred the Sound Recordings Act of 1971,” which was selected for inclusion in the 2010 Entertainment, Publishing and Arts Legal Handbook.

Disclaimer: The information contained herein is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice. The content is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, or up-to-date. This information is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and James Napper, Scene Magazine, or any associated companies, and you should not act or rely on any information in this publication without seeking the advice of an attorney. In reading this article, please note that the information provided is not a substitute for consulting with an experienced attorney and receiving counsel based on the facts and circumstances of a particular transaction. Many of the legal principles mentioned are subject to exceptions and qualifications, which may not be noted. Furthermore, case law and statutes are subject to revision and may not apply in every state. Because of the quick pace of technological change, some of the information in these articles may be outdated by the time you read it.