Universal Copyright Convention: Definition and Application

Universal Copyright Convention, (1952), was a convention that was adopted at Geneva by an international conference and was convened under the auspices of UNESCO. For several years prior to the conference, UNESCO had been consulting with copyright experts from a variety of countries. 1955 was the year that the convention officially began to be implemented.

What were the main features of the UCC?

The following were the main features of UCC:

  • No signatory nation should accord its domestic authors more favourable copyright treatment than the authors of other signatory nations, though there is no minimum protection stipulated for either domestic or foreign authors.

  • A formal copyright notice must appear in all copies of a work and consist of the symbol, the name of the copyright owner, and the year of first publication; a signatory nation, however, might require further formalities, provided such formalities are consistent with other signatory nations' requirements.

  • The minimum term of copyright in member nations must be the life of the author plus 25 years (with the exception of photographic works and works of applied art, which have a 10-year term)

  • All adhering nations are required to grant an exclusive right of translation for a period of seven years, subject to a compulsory licence under certain circumstances for the balance of the term of copyright.

The term of protection for works of photographic art and works of applied art is ten years.

Brief History of Universal Copyright Convention

The Universal Copyright Convention, also known as the UCC, is a piece of international legislation that was drafted in the year 1952 under the auspices of UNESCO.

The Convention not only needed to acknowledge that copyright is a human right, but it also needed to function as a kind of bridge between the various legal and social systems that exist around the world in order for it to live up to the claim that its title makes about its universality.

Before the Second World War, steps had already been taken to remedy the paradoxical situation in which the United States was cut off, legally speaking, from the countries of Europe and Asia which since 1886 had become signatories to the Berne Convention – the International Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. These countries had all become signatories to the convention in an effort to protect literary and artistic works from piracy. However, the United States was not one of these countries.

Under the law of the United States, authors could only be protected if they completed certain administrative formalities, such as registering their work with the US Copyright Office. This was one of the requirements for protection. This law was similar to others that dealt with intellectual property, such as the one that stated that an inventor's rights could only be recognised if his or her invention was officially registered.

The United States was unable to accede to the Berne Convention due to this requirement. The Berne Convention enshrines the principle that a work is protected solely by virtue of the fact that it was created, and this requirement prevented the United States from doing so.

Because of this, there was no legal mechanism by which a work originating in the United States could be protected in Japan or in the countries of Western Europe, nor was there any legal mechanism by which a work originating in the aforementioned countries could be protected in the United States other than by complying with the requirements of American law.

The Universal Copyright Convention that took place in 1952 offers a straightforward and ingenious solution to this issue. It prescribes that the formalities required by the national law of a contracting state shall be considered to be satisfied if all of the copies of a work that originated in another contracting state carry the symbol, accompanied by the name of the copyright owner and the year of the first publication. This will be considered to be in compliance with the formalities that are required by the national law of the contracting state.

The United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods has been ratified by almost all of the states that are parties to the Berne Convention, including the United States of America. As a result, the UCC has been able to fulfil its mission of facilitating communication between different legal systems while simultaneously enhancing the protection of intellectual works on a global scale.

Why was it necessary to hold the Convention?

There were certain articles in the Berne Convention that a number of countries took issue with, and as a result, those countries were unwilling to sign on to the convention's terms.

Most notably, the United States, which at the time only offered protection in the form of a fixed-term registration through the Library of Congress and demanded that all copyrighted works display the symbol at all times. Because of this, the United States was required to revise a number of its statutes in order to bring them into conformity with the Berne Convention.

The United States finally ratified the Berne Convention on March 1, 1989, and as a result, the country only requires registration for works that were initially published in the United States by citizens of that country.

Even in nations that would not ratify the Berne Convention, the UCC made certain that authors would still have access to the protections afforded by the international legal system. Countries that are parties to the Berne Convention have also ratified the Uniform Computer Code (UCC) in order to guarantee that the work produced by their citizens will be protected in countries that are not parties to the Berne Convention.

Parties to the Convention

Berne Convention states were worried that the existence of the UCC would encourage parties to the Berne Convention to leave that convention and adopt the UCC instead.

As a result, the UCC included a clause that stated that parties which were also parties to the Berne Convention did not need to apply the provisions of the Convention to any former Berne Convention state that renounced their membership in the Berne Convention after 1951.

This clause was included because the UCC was ratified after the Berne Convention. Therefore, any state that adopts the Berne Convention and then decides to renounce it and use the UCC protections instead is penalised, as its copyrights may no longer exist in states that have adopted the Berne Convention. This is because the UCC protects copyrights in a more comprehensive manner.

Difference Between Berne Convention and Universal Copyright Convention (UCC)

The following table illustrates the major differences between Berne Convention and Universal Copyright Convention:

Berne Convention Universal Copyright Convention
It was the most important historical treaty for the protection of literary and artistic work It was the second treaty regarding the copyright protection of literary and Artistic work.
Held in berne, Switzerland in 1886. Held in Geneva in 1952.
US did not sign the berne convention. US signed this convention.


The Convention of 1952 established a legal framework that was flexible enough to accommodate not only the United States and the Soviet Union but also the industrially developed countries and the developing countries as well. Additionally, it had an effect on the convention that came before it, known as the Berne Convention. The two Conventions, which were revised in 1971, were brought closer together as a result of the fruitful cooperation that took place. This revision gave concrete form to the twofold movement that had been initiated in 1952 by the UCC: the advancement of the legal rights of creators and the acknowledgment of the specific needs of developing countries.


Q1. When and Where UCC was held?

Ans. The Universal Copyright Convention was held in 1952 in Geneva.

Q2. When UCC and Berne Convention together got revised?

Ans. The Universal Copyright Convention and Berne Convention, both were revised in 1971.

Q3. What was the purpose of the UCC?

Ans. The purpose of the UCC was twofold: first, it was an effort to devise a legal common denominator that would promote respect for the rights of creators; second, it was an attempt to encourage the international circulation of literary, scientific, and artistic works; and third, it was a combination of the two.

Updated on: 01-Feb-2023

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