Copyrighting of foreign materials in the United States is a relatively recent development. After 1891, foreign language material was easily copyrighted in the United States; material in English, however, could not be copyrighted if it was imported, unless type was set and material printed and bound in the United States. Most of the major countries of the world, with the exception of the United States, adhered to the Bern Convention of 1887, which provided that literary material copyrighted in any signatory country automatically enjoys copyright in all the signatory countries.
The Universal Copyright Convention (UCC), which had as a main purpose the inclusion of the United States in a general system of international copyright, was signed at Geneva in 1952. It was accepted by the United States in 1954 and came into effect the following year. The U.S. copyright law was modified to conform to the convention, notably by elimination of procedural steps for the establishment of U.S. copyright in works published in other signatory countries and of the requirement that works in the English language by foreign authors be manufactured in the United States to obtain U.S. copyright protection. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) played a leading part in the negotiations for the UCC, which was revised in 1971. In 1989 the United States became a member of the Bern Convention, which was most recently revised in 1971. Most nations subscribe to the convention, and most of those who do not are parties to the UCC or members of the World Trade Organization, whose agreements cover copyright and other intellectual property rights.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.