The international copyright system has from the earliest days recognised limitations and exceptions to copyright, which are considered an essential part of a well functioning copyright system. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886, amended 1971), the major governing copyright treaty, sets out the exclusive rights granted to authors and creators. It also addresses certain public interest considerations as fundamental parts of the system, including two mandatory copyright exceptions, on news reporting (Article 2(8)) and on quotations (Article 10(1)). All other limitations and exceptions are optional and not global in nature. These two mandatory exceptions have proven to be crucially important in the international copyright system. They make possible the free communication of information in society, leading to engagement in learning and intellectual activity, the acquisition of knowledge and a thriving economy.

The 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty updated international copyright law for the digital environment. Both treaties contain important statements regarding limitations and exceptions in the digital environment. In the Preambles, the need to maintain a balance between the rights of rightholders and the larger public interest, particularly education, research and access to information, is recognised. Signatories can carry forward and extend into the digital environment limitations and exceptions in their national laws. They may devise new limitations and exceptions that are appropriate in the digital network environment.

However, there is no international mandate for countries to have limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives. This has resulted in a patchwork of national provisions for libraries and archives. Revisions and new treaties over the years have introduced new exclusive rights, new subject matter, and new modes of exploitation. Limitations and exceptions have not evolved at the same pace as the development of authors’ and other rightsholders’ rights.

The following international treaties and agreements contain provisions regarding copyright limitations and exceptions:

  • Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works 1886 (‘Berne Convention’), revised at  Paris in 1971—(‘Paris Act of Berne’)
  • Universal Copyright Convention 1952 (‘UCC‘)
  • International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations 1961 (‘Rome Convention’)
  • Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights 1994 (‘TRIPS Agreement’
  • WIPO Copyright Treaty 1996 (‘WCT‘)
  • WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty 1996 (‘WPPT‘)