Written by Ivana Katsarova
Despite over a century of international harmonisation, copyright law remains essentially national law, even though some fundamental copyright norms are gradually converging. Today, copyright is regulated at international level mainly through the Bern Convention, the Universal Copyright Convention, and a series of other treaties administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization.
At present, national copyright laws are grounded in a handful of universal rules and principles. Exclusive rights are granted to creators for ‘original’ works which range from art (music, paintings) to information products (maps, databases). The rights conceded under copyright vary with national laws and legal traditions (civil law in continental Europe and common law in Anglo-American countries). However, as a minimum, exclusive rights encompass the rights to reproduce, distribute, rent, lend, or communicate a work to the public. All these rights can be transferred and/or collectively managed by specialist intermediaries (notably for music works). Most national laws also grant moral rights to protect the author’s name and reputation. Other provisions – such as the term of copyright protection – differ widely on a global scale. To maintain a fair balance between the interests of users and rights-holders, legislators have foreseen a number of exceptions, allowing for limited free use of certain works.
The main European Union instrument providing a legal framework for copyright is the 2001 Copyright Directive. In May 2015, the European Commission unveiled its plans to create a Digital Single Market, aiming in this respect to present legislative proposals reducing the differences between national copyright regimes and allowing for wider online access, including through further harmonisation measures. Reactions from stakeholders were mixed. In this context, the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs undertook the preparation of an own initiative report, which is due to be voted in plenary in July 2015.