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What is the WIPO Copyright Treaty?


The WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) is an agreement which originated from the Berne Convention. It was developed to protect the works and rights of their authors in the digital environment. The WCT mentions two subject matters to be protected by copyright: a) computer programs and b) databases. WCT was adopted by the member states of the WIPO in 1996. It provided additional levels of copyright protection in response to advances in information technology, improving upon previous copyright treaties.

digital content

The Berne Convention

The Berne Convention, adopted all the way back in 1886, form the basic framework for international copyright protection today. It deals with the protection of works and the rights of their authors. The Berne Convention consisted of 3 basic principles:

  1. Works that originated in contracting states must be given the same protection in each of the other Contracting States as it would grant protection to the work of its nationals.
  2. Protection must not be conditional upon compliance with any formality.
  3. If a contracting state provides for a longer term of protection than the one prescribed in the Convention, the protection may be denied once protection in the country of origin ceases.

During the early stages, the WCT was seen as a protocol to the Berne Convention. However, as any amendment to the Berne Convention required unanimous consent of all parties, WCT was conceptualized as an additional treaty which supplemented the Berne Convention to minimize procedural problems. The collapse of negotiations around the extension of the Berne Convention led to the creation of a copyright treaty by the WIPO that was made considerably narrower, being limited to addressing the challenges posed by digital technologies.

Rights Granted to Authors Under the WCT

Apart from the rights recognised by the Berne Convention, the treaty also grants the following:

i) Right of Distribution: This right empowers authors to make original copies of the work through sale or other transfer of ownership.

ii) Right of Rental: The right to authorize commercial rental to the public of the original and copies of 3 kinds of works a. Computer programs, b. Cinematographic works c. works embodied in phonograms as determined in the national law of Contracting Parties.

iii) Right to communicate to the public about any work of the author being made available to the public at large.

The Treaty also obliges contracting parties to provide legal remedies against circumvention of technological measures used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights and against removal or altering of information (such as certain data that identify works or their authors) necessary for the management of their rights. The contracting states must ensure that enforcement procedures are available under its law so as to permit effective action against any act of infringement of rights covered by the Treaty.

India and the WCT

This treaty has become extremely significant in the information age, where it is important to protect the authors’ rights and works in the digital environment. In 2012, India amended its copyright law to comply with WIPO treaties. These amendments included changes in the definition of Communication to the Public in order to make it applicable to the digital environment, the introduction of provisions related to Technological Protection Measures and Rights Management Information among several others. India’s accession to this treaty has allowed the Government to offer protection to various authors and creators on their work in a digital environment from an international perspective.

Through this Treaty following benefits were made available to India:

i) To enable creative right holders to enjoy the fruit of their labor, through an international copyright system that can be used to secure a return on the investment made in producing and distributing creative works.

ii) To facilitate international protection of domestic rights holders by leveling the playing field in other countries as India has already enabled protection of works in foreign countries through International Copyright Orders and these treaties will be supplementary to that protection.

iii) To encourage authors to distribute their creative works in a digital environment with an intention to earn return on investment.

iv) To promote growth of business and create a vibrant creative economy and cultural landscape.


The WCT ensures that authors and creators having their work in a digital space are protected. By protecting their content and safeguarding their interest and also providing means for them to earn return on investment, they are encouraged to contribute more to the digital space.

Author: Nihal Raj, Legal Intern at PA Legal.

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