Free software licences such as GPL depend on copyright law in order to be legally enforcable.

Are there jurisdictions in which the law does not enforce such licenses, allowing the license to be ignored? If so are there any steps that can be taken to preserve the freedom of software in such jurisdictions?

  • There are certainly countries where the concept of copyright seems to be widely ignored ... regardless of their own laws :)
    – kdopen
    Jun 24, 2015 at 17:51
  • 5
    I think List of parties to international copyright agreements from Wikipedia might be of interest.
    – svick
    Jun 24, 2015 at 18:27
  • Countries not in the Berne Convention (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan), the horn of africa (Etheopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda) and Angola treat copyright differently than the rest of the world, and tend to have few restrictions in place. How exactly they treat copyright per country, and which enforcement potential (if any) there is is rather broad
    – Martijn
    Jun 24, 2015 at 21:07
  • Also, I don't think that a court in for example South Sudan is really going to care much about your copyright issue.
    – Martijn
    Jun 24, 2015 at 21:08
  • I believe, Iraq got a US-inspired copyright system after the invasion, even if they didn't sign Berne/TRIPS/UCC/WCT. Jul 15, 2015 at 11:16

2 Answers 2


In general, international recognition of copyright is governed by the Berne Convention: if you publish your work in a country that has signed the Berne Convention, it's protected in all other signatory countries. There are other treaties (Universal Copyright Convention, TRIPS, WIPO Copyright Treaty), but in general, a signatory to one of these is also a signatory to Berne.

Specific cases I'm aware of where you can't enforce the GPL:

There may be others; see Wikipedia's list of parties to international copyright agreements for countries that haven't signed any of the large-scale agreements.

In the case of Iran, you may be able to get your software protected by having an Iranian contributor copyright it locally, but doing so may expose you to other legal issues you'd rather avoid.


Mark's good answer already covers the Berne Convention and non-signatories to it. There is only one thing to note: even signatories to the Berne Convention have small differences. That may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but the duration in which the copyright is valid is different in different countries. Most notably Canada only enforces the Berne minimum of 50 years after authors death, while europe and the US have a term of 70 years after authors death.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.