Have you ever wondered how the copyright of your material is handled in a global market? Consider, for example, an American author who copyrights their work through the United States Government. If the book is for sale in Europe, Asia, or across the globe, is it still protected?
Fortunately, the Berne Convention has addressed this issue. Unfortunately, not all countries are included in it.
The Berne Convention was first accepted in 1886 and has received a number of modifications over the years. The United States, however, only joined in 1988. The intent of this agreement is to honor the copyright of works copyrighted in other countries as if they had been copyrighted in your own. For example, France would honor the United States copyright of a book as if it had been copyrighted in France.
Things can get sticky when a book is simultaneously copyrighted in several countries. The country with the shortest copyright duration has precedence so if one country copyrights the work for seven years and another for five years, the copyright will lapse after five years. The standard, however, is fifty years after the author's death - but if a shorter duration applies, the law can not extend the copyright in one area and allow it to lapse in another, which means the shorter duration will always take precedence.
Books originally uploaded to the Internet (eBooks that are in no other format) are still in a gray zone; there are several court cases being decided now regarding if and how copyrights are protected in these cases.
There are currently 165 countries who honor the Berne Convention. There are roughly 196 countries in the world today - "roughly" because some countries are accepted by some on the international stage and not by others. Though China is one of the countries who have agreed to abide by it, I've found it interesting in recent years to find my books available throughout China - even though they are not legally for sale there.
With the proliferation of small publishers and global accessibility, it makes sense to research your rights wherever your book is sold.