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Well, no, actually, they’re not different

“Surely,” the comment writer insisted, after reading yesterday’s blog post about copyright protection of photographs even without copyright notices, “US copyright laws are only relevant in USA. Does any of this apply in Europe or in the UK? I believe copyright laws are different over here.”

Okay, so The Legal Genealogist did cite United States law for the principle that copyright protection begins automatically on the creation of a work. And accepts 30 lashes with a wet noodle for Ameri-centrism in doing so.

But no, it’s not different in Europe or the UK.

While there are differences in some respects in laws of different countries, on this specific point — when does copyright begin and do you have to have a copyright notice — copyright laws are not different over there or in most of the world on this specific point.

copyright map

The reason comes in two words: Berne Convention.

This international agreement, administered by the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), has been around since 1886 and has been accepted, or ratified, by the vast majority of nations around the world — 178 countries at the moment, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and including, yes, the United Kingdom (an original signatory in 1886) and every single member nation of the European Union.1

The treaty is described by WIPO this way:

The Berne Convention, adopted in 1886, deals with the protection of works and the rights of their authors. It provides creators such as authors, musicians, poets, painters etc. with the means to control how their works are used, by whom, and on what terms. It is based on three basic principles and contains a series of provisions determining the minimum protection to be granted, as well as special provisions available to developing countries that want to make use of them.2

And those three basic principles?

• Works originating in one of the Contracting States … must be given the same protection in each of the other Contracting States as the latter grants to the works of its own nationals (principle of “national treatment”)

• Protection must not be conditional upon compliance with any formality (principle of “automatic” protection)

• Protection is independent of the existence of protection in the country of origin of the work (principle of “independence” of protection).3

Read that middle one again: that copyright under the treaty “must not be conditional upon compliance with any formality.”

And what exactly does that mean?

It means that no, copyright laws are not “different over here.”

You don’t have to put a copyright notice on something for it to be protected. And you don’t have to register it with a national copyright office either.4

Surely then yesterday’s post applies in the vast majority of the world: if I take a picture in Afghanistan and publish it in Zimbabwe while living in Malta — or the United States — the legal status of that photo is exactly the same with or without a copyright notice.

Because copyright, in 178 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and the entirety of the European Union, is automatic, beginning the minute I push the shutter and capture the image.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Going global,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 11 Mar 2020).


  1. See WIPO-Administered Treaties,
    Contracting Parties > Berne Convention (Total Contracting Parties : 178),” World Intellectual Property Office ( : accessed 11 Mar 2020).
  2. Ibid., “Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.”
  3. Ibid., “Summary of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886).”
  4. See Marley C. Nelson, “Debunking Top Copyright Myths – Part One,” Ohio State University Libraries ( : accessed 11 Mar 2020).
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