International Copyright Relations of Russia - USSR


See also Accession of the USSR to the UCC in 1973

After the October Revolution, the Soviet Union initially had no international copyright relations at all. During the period of the New Economic Policy (NEP), the Soviet regime unsuccessfully tried to conclude new bilateral copyright treaties with Great Britain, Germany, and Italy. After these failed attempts, the USSR maintained an isolationist policy in copyright matters until the late 1960s. A first bilateral copyright treaty with Hungary became effective on November 17, 1967, and on October 8, 1971, a second treaty with Bulgaria followed. Both treaties provided for reciprocal copyright protection with a general term of 15 years p.m.a. and also explicitly defined reciprocity for free uses.

On February 27, 1973, the Soviet Union deposited with the UNESCO its declaration of accession to the Geneva version of 1952 of the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). Three months later, on May 27, 1973, the UCC entered in force with respect to the USSR, establishing copyright relations with Western countries. The USSR timed its accession to the UCC to occur before the 1971 Paris version of the UCC entered in force. Once the Paris version had become effective, accessions to the earlier Geneva version were no longer possible. The USSR would then have been forced to implement the somewhat stronger provisions of the 1971 Paris version, which in particular explicitly recognized an author's exclusive rights to reproduction, performance, and broadcast of a work. Such neighbouring rights did not exist in Soviet law.

With the accession of the Soviet Union to the UCC, Soviet works published on or after May 27, 1973 became eligible to copyright in all other signatory countries of the UCC. Conversely, foreign works became copyrighted in the Soviet Union by virtue of the UCC if they were published on or after May 27, 1973 and the publication occurred in a UCC country or the author was a citizen of a UCC country.

There were initially fears in the West that the Soviet authorities could misuse the provisions of the UCC to censor undesirable works abroad: the regime could compulsorily purchase the copyright on such works without the authors' consent and then sue in foreign courts against the publication of Soviet works abroad, since the copyright would be owned by the state. However, this did not occur. Evidently, the Soviet authorities considered the measures provided by its other laws—in particular articles 70 and 190(1) of the RSFSR Criminal Code on anti-Soviet agitation—sufficient to deal with dissidents without needing to resort to actions based on the copyright law. Furthermore, such actions would have badly damaged the prestige of the USSR abroad, and it was doubtful whether foreign countries would have honored such nationalizations. The U.S. included in its Copyright law of 1976 an article 201(e) that explicitly invalidated all involuntary transfers of copyright. This provision was included in the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 precisely to prevent attempts of the Soviet government to employ the UCC to censor dissidents' works in the U.S.—although no such attempts had occurred yet and didn't occur afterwards.

Despite having joined the UCC, the Soviet Union continued its policy of bilateral agreements. New treaties with the German Democratic Republic (effective November 21, 1973), Poland (October 4, 1974), and Czechoslovakia (March 18, 1975) were concluded. The 1967 treaty with Hungary had already been prolonged in 1971 and was again renewed in 1977, the treaty with Bulgaria was renewed in 1975. The treaties with Hungary and Czechoslovakia also included a provision for the protection of the moral rights "without limitation in time". In 1981, the first bilateral treaty with a Western country was signed: the copyright treaty with Austria entered in force on December 16, 1981. On May 30, 1985, a treaty with Cuba followed, and in 1986 the second treaty with a Western country was concluded with Sweden. All these post-UCC treaties went beyond the provisions of the UCC because they were applied retroactively and explicitly applied also to works published before the USSR had joined the UCC and that were still copyrighted in their source country in 1973. (The treaty with Austria was amended to cover such pre-1973 works in 1989.) On April 19, 1989, another copyright treaty with Madagascar was concluded. The treaty with the German Democratic Republic was rescinded by the USSR on June 2, 1991, following confusions about its continued applicability after the German reunification.

On October 20, 1988, the USSR acceded to the Brussels Convention about measures against the unauthorized (re-)distribution of satellite transmissions. The treaty became effective for Russia from January 20, 1989 on. Also in 1989, the Soviet government announced its intention to join the Berne Convention, but the USSR was dissolved before that plan could be realized.

The changing economy in the Soviet Union led to the conclusion of a trade treaty between the USSR and the United States, signed by presidents Gorbachev and Bush on June 1, 1990. In this treaty, the U.S. imposed a number of measures in the field of intellectual property in exchange for granting the USSR most-favoured-nation status. The treaty obliged the USSR to accede to the Berne Convention and to implement in its law a neighbouring rights scheme similar to what the Rome Convention laid down. The USSR agreed in the treaty to take substantive steps to amend its legislation in that sense by 1991. The treaty was ratified by the U.S. on December 23, 1991. The Soviet side no longer could do so, but the Russian Federation did so on June 12, 1992.

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