URAA interactions for Wikimedia Commons

This calculator was created for WikiconNL 2024, where Maarten Zeinstra gave a presentation (NL) on the complex interactions between US copyright law and international copyright protections.

Wikimedia Commons is primarily hosted on US soil, making it subject to US copyright law. This creates the situation in which, when wanting to upload public domain works to Wikimedia Commons where the duration of copyright protection for works originating outside the US is affected by US legislation. Notably, the URAA (Uruguay Round Agreements Act), a US law, can impact the public domain status of works from other jurisdictions.

At its core, copyright grants creators exclusive rights over their original works, including control over reproduction and distribution. While each nation has its own copyright laws, international agreements like the Berne Convention aim to standardize protection. A principle of the Berne Convention is that the duration of copyright should not exceed the term in the country of origin (the “rule of the shorter term”). However, the United States, a latecomer to the convention, did not adopt this rule when it joined.

The Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), enacted in 1994, aimed to bring the US into compliance with certain aspects of the Berne Convention and other international agreements. However, it also inadvertently revived copyright protection for certain foreign works that had previously entered the US public domain due to technicalities (primarily, failure to comply with formalities like notice and renewal). Consequently, a work may be considered public domain in its country of origin but still protected under US copyright due to the URAA.

The flowchart below aims to guide users through these URAA interactions and help determine the copyright status of works intended for Wikimedia Commons.

The text and diagram on this page are licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Sources used

US legislation and explanation