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Decoding International LawSemiotics and the Humanities$
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Susan Tiefenbrun

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195385779

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385779.001.0001

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The impact of culture on the semiotics of treaty interpretation

The impact of culture on the semiotics of treaty interpretation

How Pirates Read and Misread the Berne Convention

Decoding International Law

Susan Tiefenbrun

Oxford University Press

China's rampant piracy of American intellectual property costs the United States billions of dollars annually. This chapter examines the impact of cultural factors on a nation's interpretation of an international treaty designed to protect intellectual property rights of authors and artists. It explores the dramatic irony represented in the history and development of U.S. and Chinese adherence to the Berne Convention. It argues that the United States has read the Berne Convention in a manner consistent with the intent of the treaty and has interpreted the implications of the minimum standards it imposes; it is precisely for those hermeneutic reasons that the United States chose not to sign or even adhere to this international treaty for more than one hundred years. In contrast, China superimposed its own specifically Chinese cultural, political, and esthetic values on the European value systems embedded deeply in the Berne Convention. In other words, China read the treaty in its own idiom and interpreted the legal discourse of the Berne Convention in a manner inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the treaty.

Keywords:   China, intellectual property, cultural differences, Berne Convention, international treaty, international law

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