Can I Protect my Copyright Internationally?

As online business owners, our ability to work with clients in other states and countries has greatly increased, which is a usually an awesome piece of running a virtual business! You could have clients in the U.S., France, Australia, Spain, and anywhere around the globe! However, legally we can run into a few issues when it comes to protecting ourselves across country lines; specifically, with intellectual property. A question that comes up a lot: can I protect the copyright in my content in other countries???

FIRST, LET’S RUN THROUGH LOCAL COPYRIGHT LAWS.

In the United States, copyright laws protect original works that are fixed in a tangible medium, which basically just means you have written them down, drawn them, or somehow gotten your ideas from your head onto paper in some way. In the online business world, this is typically your content – blog posts, graphic designs, ebooks, course modules, etc. You can register the work(s) with the U.S. Copyright Office, but you don’t have to in order to maintain your copyright in the work. (However, you DO need proof that you’ve registered your copyright if you want to file a claim of infringement against someone else in federal court.)

SO HOW DO WE PROTECT THESE WORKS IN OTHER COUNTRIES?

Well, asserting your rights with U.S. Copyright Laws will not work, as other counties do not use these laws. Registering your work or claiming ownership of your copyright here in the U.S., under U.S. copyright laws, won’t provide you with protection in another country that does not use or follow U.S. laws. Whether or not you can seek protection of your work depends on the laws of the other country where you seek protection.

HUH? SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MY WORK??

Well, it means if someone is using your content without your permission (aka “infringing” on your copyright) in another country, this infringement can’t be addressed under U.S. Copyright laws, because U.S. copyright laws don’t operate outside of the United States. HOWEVER, all is not lost!! Even though the specific laws don’t extend beyond U.S. borders, there are international treaties and conventions that have been designed to address exactly this!

THE BERNE CONVENTION

One of these conventions is called The Berne Convention. This Convention represents an international “agreement” regarding copyright protection, and many countries – including the United States! – have become a party. This Convention basically means that all countries who have joined agree to a few specific rules regarding international copyrights, and how to treat those from other countries when they want to assert their copyright protections abroad. These rules boil down to the following: countries who are parties to this Convention have agreed to provide foreign authors the same protections as authors who are citizens of their country, without requiring them to abide by the “formalities” (aka rules) of that country regarding copyright protection. So for example, if someone from another country wanted to assert their copyright ownership in the U.S., they would NOT have to follow the rule that they first must register the work with the U.S. Copyright office in order to file a claim. This rule would also apply to you, if you wanted to assert your rights in another country – you would not need to follow or comply with their specific rules regarding copyright protection in order to receive the protection in that country.

SO HOW DOES THIS WORK IN THE REAL WORLD??

Okay, so we now know that those countries which are parties to the Berne Convention have agreed to essentially allow authors who are not citizens of their county to receive the same copyright protection as citizens, without requiring them to follow the same rules as their citizens. SO – the result is that you, a U.S. author, would automatically be entitled to the same protections as those in a member country, without having to comply with their specific rules surrounding copyright protection.

THE CATCH

So far, this is sounding pretty good right? You can assert your right in a copyright in these countries without having to worry about following their rules! Piece of cake! BUT…there’s a catch. Let’s say you find someone in another country IS copying your work, and you want to file a claim against them. You can, but you will need to bring the claim in THAT country, which will then be handled under the laws of THAT country…not the U.S. Copyright laws we are all comfortable with. So, you’d need to be familiar with the copyright laws of that country, and possible hire or work closely with a local attorney to be sure you knew what you were doing. Added difficulty points if you’ve landed in a country that does not speak English – now you need to know those laws AND the language well enough to submit the right documentation in their language.

THE RESULT

So, while you as a copyright owner do have protection of your work abroad, actually enforcing this requires bringing a lawsuit in that country, under those laws, using their language. This hurdle may make you realize it’s not worth it to make someone else take down an infringing blog post. However, if it’s a complete copy of a book you’ve written that is currently making you a great deal of money, or if the infringement is greatly hurting your sales – it could be worth the investment to look into filing a lawsuit.

STEPS TO TAKE NOW, TO PROTECT YOURSELF HERE

Place your notice of copyright on any original work you draft that you assert copyright over. This means placing the phrase “© Copyright [YOUR NAME] [YEAR PUBLISHED]. All Rights Reserved” on your work, putting everyone else who sees this post on notice that you claim a copyright in the work.

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Ps: although I am an attorney, this does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship, and is just legal information.

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