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Several international treaties encourage reasonably coherent protection of copyright from country to country. They set minimum standards of protection which each signatory country then implements within the bounds of its own copyright law.

The oldest and most important treaty is the Berne Convention, first signed in 1886, revised many times in the years since, and today ratified by more than 160 countries. Berne establishes minimum standards of protection (types of works protected, duration of protection, scope of exceptions and limitations) as well as the principles of “national treatment” (works originating in one signatory country are given the same protection in the other signatory countries as each grants to works of its own nationals) and “automatic protection” (copyright inheres automatically in a qualifying work upon its fixation in a tangible medium and without any required prior formality).

First signed in 1996, the WIPO Copyright Treaty makes clear that computer programs and databases are protected by copyright, and recognizes that the transmission of works over the Internet and similar networks is an exclusive right within the scope of copyright, originally held by the creator. It also categorizes as copyright infringements both (i) the circumvention of technological protection measures attached to works and (ii) the removal from a work of embedded rights management information.

The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) also entered into force in 1996, is administered by the World Trade Organization, and includes a number of provisions related to the enforcement of IP rights. The TRIPS agreement says that national laws have to make the effective enforcement of IP rights possible, and describes in detail how enforcement should be addressed.

Copyright Regulations in Europe

Efforts in the European Union to harmonize copyright law have resulted in a number of regulations, including the 2001 Directive on Copyright in the Information Society.

The Directive on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society (2001/29/EC) had two main objectives: reflect technological developments in copyright law in Europe and transpose into European law the provisions contained in the two WIPO treaties of 1996.

The Directive harmonized across European Union Member States the rights of reproduction, distribution and communication to the public, as well as the legal protection of technical protection measures and rights management systems. It also included an exhaustive list of limitations and exceptions to copyright, most of which are optional for the Member States to implement in their national laws. A later study by the Institute for Information Law (Univ. of Amsterdam) concluded that those options provided to the Member States had substantially interfered with harmonization.

Another important piece of European legislation is the 2004 Directive on Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, which was followed by the creation in 2009, of the European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy.