The rule of the shorter term, also called the comparison of terms, is a provision in international copyright treaties. The provision allows that signatory countries can limit the duration of copyright they grant to foreign works under national treatment, to at most the copyright term granted to the work in the country of its creator's origin.
International copyright treaties such as the Berne Convention (BC) or the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) work through national treatment: signatory countries agree to grant copyright to foreign works under their local laws and by the same rules they grant copyright to domestic works. Whether a work is eligible to copyright, and if so, for how long that copyright exists, is governed by the laws of the country where copyright on the work is claimed. The Berne Convention and also the UCC define only the minimum requirements for copyrights that all signatory countries must meet, but any country is free to go beyond this minimal common denominator in its legislation. This is most noticeable in the duration for which copyrights are upheld. The Berne Convention lays down a minimal general copyright term of 50 years beyond the death of an author (50 years p.m.a.). But many countries have a longer term, such as 70 years p.m.a., or even 100 years p.m.a..
One and the same work may thus be copyrighted for different times in different countries. Its copyright may have expired already in countries with a minimum term, but at the same time, it may still be copyrighted in other countries that have longer copyright terms. National treatment may thus lead to an imbalance: while works from a country with a minimal copyright term are copyrighted longer in some other country that has a longer copyright term, works from such a country that goes beyond the minimum requirements of a treaty may already have entered the public domain in foreign countries with shorter copyright term while still being copyrighted at home.
In such cases, the rule of the shorter term makes allowance for reciprocity in exception to the normal national treatment. Countries with a long copyright term may apply only the shorter foreign term to works from countries that have such a shorter term.
In the Universal Copyright Convention, the comparison of terms is spelled out in article IV(4)(a), which reads:
Addressing concerns of the Japanese delegation, the conference chair clarified that this subsumed the case of works that were not copyrightable at all in their country of origin (as specified), as these would have a copyright term equal to zero. Thus other countries would not be obliged to grant copyright on such foreign works, even if similar domestic works were granted copyright.
The application of article IV(4)(a) is not mandatory: "not being obliged to" is not equivalent to "being obliged not to".
In the Berne Convention, a similar rule exists, but not for "classes of works" but considering individual works. Article 7(8) of the Berne Convention reads:
Again, application of this rule is not mandatory. Any country may "provide otherwise" in its legislation. To do so, it is not necessary to include an explicit exception in the domestic copyright law, as the example of the United States shows.
The Berne Convention also states in article 5(2) that the enjoyment and exercise of copyright
This specifies national treatment, and also makes the existence of copyright on a work in one country independent from the existence of copyright on the work in other countries.
The terms of existing or new bilateral treaties may moreover override these conventions, as long as such bilateral treaties meet the minimum requirements of the conventions. This is defined in article 20 of the Berne Convention and in articles XVIII and XIX of the UCC.
|Countries and areas||Rule of the shorter term?||References|
|Albania||Yes||Art. 24, Law No. 9380 of May 28, 2005|
|Andorra||YesTemplate:Fact||Transitional Provision, Law on Copyright and Related Rights of 1999Template:Fact|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Yes||s. 153(3), Copyright Act, 2002|
|Argentina||Yes||Art. 15, Ley 11.723 del 28 de septiembre de 1933, as modified by Ley 24.870 del 11 de septiembre de 1997|
|Armenia||No, unless public domain in the country of origin on the date article 45 entered force||Art. 45, Law on Copyright and Neighbouring Rights of 12 January 2000|
|Australia||Yes||Item 5, Copyright (International Protection), Regulations (Amendment), 18/12/2003, No. 337|
|Belarus||Yes, while party to Berne Convention||Art. 3, Law 194-3 of 11 August 1998|
|Berne Convention signatories||Yes unless signatories say otherwise||Art. 7(8)|
|Brazil||No||Art. 2 Copyright, Law, 19/02/1998, No. 9.610|
|Canada||Yes except for North American Free Trade Agreement countries, i.e. U.S.A. and Mexico||s. 9(2), Copyright Act, R.S., c. C-30|
|China (People's Republic, Mainland only)||No||Art. 2, second and fourth paragraphs, Copyright Law of the People's Republic of China|
|Colombia||No||Art. 11, Ley 23 de 1982|
|Cote d'Ivoire||Yes||Art. 4, Loi no. 96-564 du 25 juillet 1996|
|Dominican Republic||Yes||Art. 21 Párrafo, Law No. 65-00 on Copyright of August 21, 2000|
|European Union members||Yes (with exceptions)||Art. 7(1), Directive 2006/116/EC|
|Guatemala||Yes||Art. 43, Law on Copyright and Related Rights, as amended on November 1, 2000|
|Honduras||Yes||Article 44 of Decreto 4 99 E: Ley del derecho de autor y de los derechos conexos|
|Hong Kong||Yes||s. 198(3)(b), 229(8)(b), 229A(6)(b), Copyright Ordinance (Cap. 528)|
|India||Yes for countries designated in official schedule||s. 40(iii), Copyright Act, 1957, and Copyright, Order, 1991, as amended in 1999 & 2000|
|Indonesia||No||Art. 76c, Law of the Republic of Indonesia Number 19 Year 2002 Regarding Copyright, as entered into force in July 2003|
|Israel||Yes||Art. 44, Copyright, Act, 2007|
|Japan||Yes||Art. 58, Law No. 48 of 6 May 1970, as amended in 2006|
|Korea, Republic of (South)||No||Art. 3, Korean Copyright Act Consolidated 17 Oct 2004|
|Lebanon||No||Chap. 4, Copyright, Law, 03/04/1999, n° 75|
|Macau||Yes||Art. 51, Decree-Law 43/99/M of August 16, 1999|
|Mexico||No||Art. 29, Ley Federal del Derecho de Autor (1996), unchanged in Ley Federal del Derecho de Autor (2003)|
|Nigeria||No||Arts. 4A and 33, Copyright, Act (Consolidation Ch. 68), 1988 (1999), No. 47 (No. 42)|
|Norway||Yes||Art. 6, Copyright (Other Countries EEA TRIPs UCC), Regulation, 25/04/1997|
|Oman||No||Art. 24 , Copyright, Decree, 21/05/2000 - 1421, No. 37|
|Pakistan||Yes for countries designated in official schedule||Chapter XI Item 54(iii) , Copyright, Ordinance (Consolidation), 02/06/1962 (29/09/2000) and Schedule section (pg 43), International Copyright Order, 1968 (18th June, 2000)|
|Paraguay||No||Art. 180, Copyright, Law, 27/08/1998, No. 1328|
|Philippines||No, though "Reverse Reciprocity" of section 231 may apply||Sec. 221.2 and 224.2 , Republic Act No. 8293|
|Russia||Yes||Section III Art 35.4, Law of the Russian Federation No. 5351-1 of July 9, 1993 on Copyright and Neighbouring Rights, as amended on 20 July 2004|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||No||Art. 6(b), Copyright Act, 2003|
|Singapore||Yes||s. 4, Copyright (International Protection) Regulations|
|Taiwan, Republic of China||Yes||Art. 106bis, Copyright Act|
|Thailand||No||Art. 61, Copyright Act|
|Turkey||No, unless public domain in the country of origin on the date the amendment to article 88 entered force||Art. 88, Copyright Act per additional Art. 2|
|United States of America||No, unless public domain in the "source country" on the "date of restoration"||17 USC 104(c) and 17 USC 104A|
|Venezuela||No||Art. 126, Ley sobre el Dercho de Autor as modified by the Decreto del 14 de agosto de 1993|
When the United States joined the Berne Convention, Congress explicitly declared that the treaty was not self-executing in the United States in the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, section 2 (BCIA, Pub. L. 100-568). The BCIA made clear that within the U.S., only U.S. copyright law applied, and that U.S. copyright law, as amended by the BCIA, implemented the requirements of the Berne Convention (although it did not implement §18(1) of the Berne Convention, a deviation that was corrected by the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) in 1994).
This statement from public law 100-568 is repeated in the U.S. Copyright law in 17 USC 104, which assimilates foreign works to domestic works and which furthermore states in 17 USC 104(c) that
Any requirements from the Berne Convention thus needed to be spelled out explicitly in the U.S. Copyright law to make them effective in the United States. But Title 17 of the United States Code does not contain any article on the rule of the shorter term. The only mention of such a rule was added in 1994 with the URAA in 17 USC 104A, which automatically restored copyrights on many foreign works, unless these works had already fallen in the public domain in their country of origin on the URAA date, which is January 1, 1996 for most foreign countries. Because there is no general rule of the shorter term in U.S. Copyright law, U.S. courts have declined to apply that rule on several occasions.
One case where this issue was treated was Hasbro Bradley, Inc. v. Sparkle Toys, Inc. (780 F.2d 189 (2d Cir 1985)). Hasbro was distributing Japanese toys (action figures) in the U.S. under an exclusive license and claimed copyright on these toys. Sparkle Toys distributed exact copies of these toy figures. In the case, Sparkle contested Hasbro's copyright claims. In this pre-Berne case, the court arrived at the conclusion that Hasbro was entitled to copyright on the figurines although these toys of Japanese origin were not copyrighted at all in Japan, and that even though the toys did not bear a copyright notice. The case has been criticized in 2000 by William F. Patry, who expressed the opinion that the Judge mistakenly arrived at the conclusion that the U.S. were required to grant copyright on these toys. Patry also concedes that under the Berne Convention, the U.S. would indeed be required to grant copyright to foreign works, even if such works were not copyrighted in their country of origin as per article 5(2) of the Berne Convention.
While the Hasbro case considered a special case of the applicability of rule of the shorter term in the context of the UCC, the case of Capitol Records, Inc. v. Naxos of America, Inc. (4 N.Y.3d 540, 2nd Cir. 2005) had the occasion to consider the matter under Berne Convention. In this case, Capitol Records claimed copyright on old British sound recordings from the 1930s, on which the copyright in the United Kingdom had expired in the late 1980s. Naxos Records, which also and in competition to Capitol distributed restored versions of these recordings, challenged this copyright claim. Sound recordings are a special case because pre-1972 sound recordings in the United States are not covered by federal law but by state law. The court concluded that since federal law did not apply, and because nothing in the Berne Convention (which is inapplicable to sound recordings anyway) or the Rome Convention usurped the State of New York's law, the works were under copyright pursuant to New York common law- while the Uruguay Round Agreements Act and US statutes did not, and had never, offered protection to these works; the fact that they were not under copyright in the UK as of 1996 was completely irrelevant.
Following the Chace International Copyright Act, which was signed into law on March 3, 1891 and which became effective on July 1 of the same year, the United States concluded a number of bilateral copyright treaties with foreign countries. In 1891, treaties with Belgium, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom became effective; 1892 followed treaties with Germany and Italy; in 1893, with Denmark and Portugal; in 1896 with Chile and Mexico, and in 1899 with Costa Rica and the Netherlands. These treaties remained effective even after the 1976 Copyright Act unless "terminated, suspended, or revised by the President". The treaty from 1892 with Germany was applied in court case in Germany in 2003.
In the European Union, copyrights have been harmonized amongst the member states by the EU directive 93/98/EEC on harmonising the term of copyright protection. This binding directive, which became effective on July 1, 1995, has raised the duration of copyrights throughout the union to 70 years p.m.a. It also includes in its article 7 a mandatory rule of the shorter term for works from non-EU countries. Within the EU, no comparison of terms is applied, and—as in the Berne Convention or in the UCC—existing international obligations (such as bilateral treaties) may override this rule of the shorter term.
Germany extends the non-applicability of the rule of the shorter term to all members of the European Economic Area in §120 of its Urheberrechtsgesetz. It also does not apply the comparison of terms to U.S. works. In a case decided on October 7, 2003 by the Oberlandesgericht of Hesse in Frankfurt am Main, the court ruled that a U.S. work that had fallen in the public domain in the U.S. was still copyrighted in Germany. The court considered the rule of the shorter term inapplicable because of the bilateral copyright treaty between Germany and the United States, which had become effective on January 15, 1892 and which was still in effect. That treaty did not contain a rule of the shorter term, but just stated that works of either country were copyrighted in the other country by the other country's laws.
Even before article 7 of directive 93/98/EC explicitly prohibited the application of the rule of the shorter term amongst EU countries, the comparison of terms within the EU was not allowed. The Treaty instituting the European Community, which in its original version became effective in 1958, defined in article 7, paragraph 1, that within the union, any discrimination on grounds of nationality was prohibited. (Since 2002, when the treaty was amended by the Treaty of Maastricht, this is article 12, paragraph 1.) Application of the rule of the shorter term is such a discrimination, as it results in granting domestic authors longer copyright terms for their works than foreign authors from other EU countries.
This issue was settled decisively in 1993 (i.e., two years before directive 93/98/EC became effective) by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in what became known as the Phil Collins decision. In that case, Phil Collins sued a German phonogram distributor who was marketing records of a concert Collins had given in the U.S. German law of that time granted German performers full neighbouring rights, and in particular the right to prohibit the distribution of recordings made without their consent, regardless of the place the performance had occurred. At the same time, German law granted the same right to foreign performers only for their performances that had occurred in Germany. The ECJ decided on October 20, 1993 that this was a violation of the non-discrimination clause of article 7 of the EC treaty. It also clarified that the non-discrimination clause was indeed applicable to copyright.
The court stated that
and clarified that this non-discrimination clause was not about differences between national laws, but to ensure that in any EU country, citizens and foreigners from other EU countries were treated equally:
In 2002, the ECJ then ruled in the Puccini case (or La Bohème case) that the non-discrimination clause was even applicable to nationals of EU member countries who had died before the EU came into existence, and it also explicitly reiterated that the comparison of terms was a violation of said non-discrimination rule. This case was about a performance of the opera La Bohème by Puccini by a state-owned theatre in Wiesbaden in the German state of Hesse in the seasons 1993/94 and 1994/95. Under the German laws of the time, the rule of the shorter term applied to foreign works and the opera was thus in the public domain in Germany since the end of 1980, when its 56-year Italian copyright term had run out. (Puccini had died on November 29, 1924.) Domestic works at the same time enjoyed a copyright term of 70 years after the authors death in Germany. A publisher of musical works claimed to hold the rights to Puccini's works in Germany, and took the state of Hesse to court, based on the non-discrimination clause, which he claimed prescribed a copyright term of 70 years in Germany also for foreign works. The Federal Court of Justice of Germany had doubts about whether the non-discrimination clause could be applied to authors deceased before the EU existed and referred the question to the ECJ, who fully confirmed the plaintiff's reading. The court flatly rejected the interpretation brought forth by the state of Hesse that the comparison of terms was based on the country of origin of a work, not on the nationality of an author, and thus was an objective criterion and not discrimination of the grounds of nationality. The court concluded that