Statute of Anne
The world's first copyright law was the Statute of Anne, enacted in England in 1710. This Act introduced for the first time the concept of the author of a work being the owner of its copyright, and laid out fixed terms of protection. Following this Act, copyrighted works were required to be deposited at specific copyright libraries, and registered at Stationers' Hall. There was no automatic copyright protection for unpublished works.
Legislation based on the Statute of Anne gradually appeared in other countries, such as the Copyright Act of 1790 in the United States, but copyright legislation remained uncoordinated at an international level until the 19th century. In 1886, however, the Berne Convention was introduced to provide mutual recognition of copyright between nation states, and to promote the development of international standards for copyright protection.
The Berne Convention does away with the need to register works separately in each individual country, and has been adopted by almost all the nations of the world (181 of the 244 states and territories listed on this website). Following the United States' adoption of the treaty in 1988 the Convention now covers almost all major countries. The Berne Convention remains in force to this day, and continues to provide the basis for international copyright law.
One of the biggest changes implemented by the adoption of the Berne Convention was to extend copyright protection to unpublished works, and remove the requirement for registration. In countries of the Berne Convention this means that an individual (or the organization they are working for) owns the copyright of any work they produce as soon as it is recorded in some way, be it by writing it down, drawing, filming, etc.
While the adoption of the Berne Convention has had many benefits for the creators of original works, the systems for protecting unpublished works remain fragmented internationally, with some states offering optional registration services within their own jurisdiction, while others offer no kind of registration at all.
Without registration, it can be difficult to judge who is the rightful owner of a copyrighted work. Even where a national registration system is in place, it may not provide support relating to a dispute in another country. The Intellectual Property Rights Office (also known as the IP Rights Office and the IPRO) was created in an effort to create a central international point of deposit for unpublished works from around the world, via its Copyright Registration Service. The hope is that this can provide a standard point of registration for all citizens of Berne Convention nations.
For details on registering your work with the Copyright Registration Service, click here.
For a list of nations belonging to the Berne Convention, click here.