History of Copyright in Central & Eastern Europe

From the time Central and Eastern European countries have begun to recognise copyright protection, they adopted the continental European approach of droit d’ auteur (authors right) as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon approach of copyright. The continental European still serves as the current copyright application in Central and Eastern Europe.

Pre Socialist Times

The 1920’s saw the enactment of copyright acts in most Central and Eastern European countries this administered a fairly high standard of protection and allowed them to join and adhere to the provisions of the Berne Convention of Literary and Artistic Works. This was particularly valid for Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and former Yugoslavia. These nations developed their copyright laws further via legal doctrine and case law, which had significant influence in the definition of regulations under socialist copyright systems.

Socialist Copyright Systems

The 1950’s saw another enactment of legislation in Central and Eastern Europe. These laws and their particular alterations were based on the continental European system, however they contained a variety of distinguishing features which set them apart from the continental European systems.

Firstly under the socialist system, the standard of copyright protection was generally low. The terms of of protection were often extremely low. In Poland the term of protection prior to 1975 was 20 years and after 1975 this was extended to 25. In the USSR the term of protection was 25 years post mortem auctoris (after the authors death [p.m.a.]). Most other countries applied article 11 of he Berne Convention, this allowed the broadcasters to be granted a statutory license to use protected materials, ignoring the authors right to grant or deny a license.

Copyright under the Socialist system was largely restricted for the benefit of the general public. Citizens were expected to participate in the nations cultural output without their authorisation and without payment.The socialist copyright system acknowledged four groups of free uses;

  1. free for personal and professional use,
  2. free for information uses i.e. news reports
  3. free for use in school books and public libraries
  4. free for use in non-commercial uses such as the performance of a work ar a non-commercial event.

The Difference between East and West

From 1960’s onwards the standard of protection fell farther behind in the socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The drive for technological modernisation in the West had advanced those laws. The largest leap happened when private copying and reproduction machines were introduced to the general public. Further amendments to legislation were a direct result the appearance of cable and satellite broadcasting and computer software.

The lack of innovation and consumer goods such as recorders, copying machines and personal computers was the primary cause which did not push the modernisation of law. Deficiencies in technology and the many free-use provisions were directly the cause why Central and Eastern European countries provided statutory renumeration rights, particularly for private copying. Naturally the collecting societies had a very limited range of activities.

The Collecting Societies

In socialist system countries the societies enjoyed state-endorsed monopolies, this allowed the governments to influence and censor the media and creative output. The governments established a single central licensing authority which was responsible for issuing licenses for use of domestic works outside. Without a license from such an authority any privately issued license was considered void and fees were often confiscated by the state.

The socialist state attempted and often succeeded in controlling almost all cultural output, this is particularly true for record companies, publishing houses, broadcasters and theaters. The free market did not exist in socialist countries and therefore all possibilities to enter a commercial contract for individuals also could not take place. However if a contract did take place it would often be with a state controlled entity which would exploit the works of its creator without remuneration.

Copyright was intensely regulated by the socialist state. The state certified tariffs which awarded authors when state organistaions exploited their works. The tariffs varied in correspondence to the work and the nature of its use. The purpose of these was to guarantee the authors a certain standard where the freedom of contract could not.

Neigboring rights and especially the rights of performing artists, phonogram producers and broadcasters hardly existed in socialist countries. Czechoslavakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia provided some very limited Neighbouring rights protection.

Post Socialist Development

Central and Eastern European countries under the pressure of free markets and the the free availability of PCs, copying machines and general modern consumer goods, were almost forced into modernising and rewriting their copyright laws. However, a lot of the changes come as a result of multinational and bilateral agreements enjoyed by these countries. Particularly the United States had entered into bilateral trade agreements which included intellectual property provisions as part of its world-wide strategy based on the Trade & Competitiveness Act of 1988. These agreements provide protection for literary works, computer software as well as databases which includes original compilations of data. In the years following 1988 three distinct waves of trade agreements were being enacted in Central and Eastern Europe. All of which had given incentives to those nations to enact new legislation and strengthen copyright protection. Only the Czech Republic and former Yugoslavia had adjusted their existing laws.


Much of the copyright laws set out in Central and Eastern Europe reflect those in the Western part of he continent. In addition to the concrete changes to copyright law, provisions have also been made to neighbouring rights protection and provisions on regarding collecting societies and enforcement. These changes evidently attempt to seek out a balance between authors and those who exploit their works.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: