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IFRRO began in 1980 as a working group of the Copyright Committee of the International Publishers Association and the International Group of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM). It was at the May 1984 meeting in Oslo that this working group became an informal consortium called the International Forum for Reproduction Rights Organisations. This change acknowledged the more direct participation of authors and other rights owners within the group.

In April 1988 in Copenhagen, IFRRO became a formal federation eligible to speak on behalf of its constituents before various international bodies such as WIPO, UNESCO, the European Community, and the Council of Europe.

In September 1992, in Helsinki, IFRRO adopted new Statutes and Guidelines which provided for the establishment of a Board of Directors and a professional Secretariat. The statutes and guidelines were amended in October 1996, in Toronto.

In May 1996, in London, IFRRO adopted a new 3-year plan involving the restructuring and expansion of its activities in many areas. In particular, it was decided to create an IFRRO Development Fund to finance special projects and assist new RROs.

In January of 1998, the IFRRO Secretariat established its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.