1

Let's say that there are 2 (hypothetical) countries with different copyright durations:

  • Country A has a copyright duration of Life + 70 years.
  • Country B has a copyright duration of Life + 50 years.

Country A does not apply the rule of the shorter term.

A work was published in Country B by an author who died 65 years ago. Let's call this the "original work." An adaptation (known as "derivative work" in the United States) of the original work was later published in Country B since the work is in the public domain. The author of this adaptation chose to license their work with a public-domain equivalent license (perhaps CC0).

My understanding of copyright is that it grants the author an exclusive right to distribute their work in whatever manner they'd like for some amount of time (determined by the copyright duration in a country).

Can a person in Country A legally use the adapted work? I'm assuming no, but then does that mean that the author of the work created in Country B does not technically have all the rights to the work they created, since they have no control over whether their work can be distributed in Country A? If that is the case, then would these rights be "granted" to the author of the adaptation when the copyright finally expires in Country A?

I am a bit confused. Am I misunderstanding something about international copyright law as enacted by treaties such as Berne or the UCC?

2

You're largely correct, though there's some vocabulary you're using that could go either way in terms of proper understanding. My comments on your understanding, presuming we're dealing with two Berne countries (UCC is largely irrelevant these days):

My understanding of copyright is that it grants the author an exclusive right to distribute their work in whatever manner they'd like for some amount of time (determined by the copyright duration in a country).

Generally correct though there can be many exceptions here (fair use, technical/temporary copying, first-sale doctrine, etc.).

Can a person in Country A legally use the adapted work? I'm assuming no [...],

Basically correct, whoever holds rights to the original work could theoretically still assert their rights in Country A on any portion of the derivative work that was part of the original.

[...] does that mean that the author of the work created in Country B does not technically have all the rights to the work they created, since they have no control over whether their work can be distributed in Country A?

This is splitting hairs, but while the derivative author has the rights given to them by copyright law, they aren't absolute. In particular in this case, regardless of which country, they still don't have any inherent exclusive rights over the original work. With respect to country B, those exclusive rights have expired so they don't bind the derivative author, but they haven't expired in country A.

If that is the case, then would these rights be "granted" to the author of the adaptation when the copyright finally expires in Country A?

Again splitting hairs, but its more helpful to express that no rights are actively granted by the expiration of copyright in Country A, it's just that no one holds those rights anymore (here there might be a language issue too, generally in copyright law "rights" refers to those exclusive actions that may be taken by the copyright holder, and not always to the "right" i.e. "freedom" for someone to do something).

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