Six Treaties Creators Need to Understand
Did you know that international treaties determine creator rights? They also determine how we can sell our work.
- What’s a compilation and can it be sold?
- How can computer software be protected?
- Must you live in a country to have your copyright in that country recognized?
- Do you have to register your copyright?
The answers to all of these questions and many more can be found within copyright legislation in each country. The rules within that legislation, however, usually stem from international treaties.
International treaties determine:
- which work by creators has legality as a piece of intellectual property,
- how that property can be commercialized, and
- who has the right to consume a creators’ work for free (a concept captured in the phrase “public domain”).
The balance between these three rights alternates depending on the authority, popularity and power of the people arguing for each right.
In the early days of copyright, commercialization formed the only property right worth protecting. This tradition began in England soon after Gutenberg discovered his printing press and printers hired writers to create books.
Initially, the government passed laws regarding who got the economic benefits and to ensure censorship.
Later John Milton and John Locke complained about the system to argue in favour of a free exchange of ideas. Then legislators revised copyright to create a public domain.
A similar argument took place in Paris almost two centuries later.
Famous author Victor Hugo defended the public domain, as shown in the following 1886 quote:
The book, as a book, belongs to the author, but as a thought, it belongs – the word is not too extreme – to the human race. All intelligences, all minds, are eligible, all own it. If one of these two rights, the right of the writer and the right of the human mind, were to be sacrificed, it would certainly be the right of the writer, because the public interest is our only concern, and that must take precedence in anything that comes before us. [Numerous sounds of approval.]But, as I just said, this sacrifice is not necessary.”
Creator’s Intellectual Property
Hugo also became a chief proponent of “author rights” as the most important form of property right that exists. Unlike other forms, he said, the idea of an author’s right hurts no one since it covers an entirely new creation.
He became so incensed about the subject, he founded The International Literary and Artistic Association (ALAI), “an independent learned society dedicated to studying and discussing legal issues arising in connection with the protection of the interests of creative individuals” that still exists today.
Copyright Duality in Canada
In Canada, our Copyright Act encompasses two distinct traditions: an English-speaking one and a French-speaking one.
- In French-speaking countries, rights not specifically spelled out in law are assumed to belong to creators and copyright laws usually include moral rights that ensure that creators can determine how their work is used.
- English-speaking countries tend to focus on protecting economic benefits for copyright owners, regardless of who actually created the work with rights not specifically mentioned in law left unprotected.
Like the international situation, the Canadian Copyright Act provides differing levels of rights to creators, distributors and users based on popular trends. The 1997 revisions took economic rights away from creators to give them to educational institutions.
Canada Copyright Act to be Revised
Another revision will occur later this year or next, primarily due to our signature on the NAFTA treaty last autumn. This article from last fall outlines what was expected. I haven’t found any clear outline of what we actually have to do under the deal now that it’s passed.
The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology just finished hearings about how it should update the Copyright Act. If you’d like to read the submissions, they are available on the committee website, where presumably the report will also appear once it’s ready.
Europe also has a revision of copyright rules underway that are continuing to evolve based on the discussions around Brexit.
Given that copyright laws are being updated in Canada and elsewhere right now, I thought it was a good time to highlight the international treaties that enable all creators to own and sell our work.
Here’s my brief infographic to give you an idea of which treaties you want to understand.
About the Author
Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.