Copyright during World War I: An Example of Transnational Cooperation

By Isabella Löhr

Current debates on how to handle intellectual property rights have been strongly shaped by international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the European Union. In fact, international organisations have been key actors in shaping and implementing intellectual property rights since the late 19th century. This is best exemplified by the Berne Convention, which was signed in 1886 by Europe’s major book-trading countries toregulatethe cross-border trade in cultural goods. But what becomes of such an international organisation, based on principles of mutual and peaceful cooperation between states and actors from civil society, after a conflict such as the First World War transforms its major member states into enemies? The present article will show how the Berne Union succeeded in resisting the restrictive trade policies and wartime propaganda of European states, thanks to the emergence of a coalition between publishers, authors, legal experts and the office of the Berne Union, which aimed to keep war out. The article argues that, through the Berne Union, the European book trade was embedded in social, political and legal institutional structures that reflected the border-crossing entanglement of what is called “European cultural space” – thereby preserving the solidarities of pre-war “cultural internationalism”.

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