The Berne Convention

Victor Hugo, Public Domain from Wikimedia CommonsIn 1878, French novelist Victor Hugo founded the Association Littéraire et Artistique Internationale (ALAI) with the purpose of achieving international copyright protection for artists. Copyright laws in the 19th century varied among European nations, so that protection was not guaranteed across the continent, let alone across the pond. The ALAI worked for automatic protection (without registration), a 100-year term of protection, and international reciprocity. The work of the association led to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1886.

The Convention originally had ten signatory nations. It is now administered the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and has 172 signatories. The United States joined in 1988, after refusing for a century to drop its requirement of copyright registration. The Convention was most recently amended in 1979.

Under the terms of the Berne Convention, authors and artists are given protection for their works for a term of life plus 50 years. Works are protected in all countries that have signed the convention, without any required formalities. Authors and artists have sole right to authorize a wide range of uses of their work, including translation and performance.


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