Future of library and archive copyright discussions being set at WIPO this week

24 Sep 2014

The World Intellectual Property Organisation General Assembly (WIPO GA) is currently underway in Geneva.  Member countries, including Australia, are discussing the future work plan of WIPO, including the agenda for the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR). 

Which sounds about as exciting as watching paint drying.  But for libraries and archives it’s a crucial time as they fight to maintain the work on the legal instrument for limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives (TLIB).

So why are libraries and archives at WIPO? 

Basically libraries and archives are there to make sure that they can continue to do their job.  Preservation, inter-library loan, document supply, lending digital work, access to publications and other matters are increasingly confined or not-possible due to copyright laws or restrictive contracts. 

The proposed TLIB would ensure countries implemented national level exceptions for matters such as preservation and document supply.  It would also ensure that libraries could continue their cross-border work, such as the system of inter-library loans.  A survey conducted by the ALCC early in the year found that from a small sample size of 15 libraries there were cross-border interactions to 79 different countries! These are issues that libraries and archives are engaging with at the moment, and shall continue to do so into the future.

What’s the issues?

Libraries and archives have been under discussion at WIPO for several years, and good progress has been made on working through the issues and the proposed text.  However we are facing opposition from a group of developed countries, primarily the EU, who feel that the treaty is unnecessary and an ‘exchange of best practice’ would be more productive. 

We strongly reject that.  The international copyright landscape has increasingly been tilted towards protecting rights, with no reciprocal protection for public interest uses, like those of libraries and archives.  Only one international agreement protecting limitations and exceptions has been signed, the Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and that has not yet come into force. 

And increasingly libraries face a commercial landscape where contracts try to reduce further the space for limitation and exceptions.  Ellen Broad, speaking for IFLA at SCCR 27, noted:

We have been told that the existing international framework provides sufficient policy space for national exceptions.

However, for libraries in many regions, their national exceptions no longer apply. In the digital environment, publishers could be described as our copyright policy makers. They determine what services we are permitted to provide to patrons in our communities, in our countries – the exceptions and limitations crafted by our government policy makers to ensure libraries are able to fulfill their services in the public interest no longer apply.  And this is not simply a national problem.

What is the ALCC doing about this?

The ALCC and its members have been active supporters of TLIB, working alongside library bodies from around the world, including IFLA.  We’ve been engaged at both domestic and international levels, providing support and assistance to the library and archive SCCR team and to the ALIA statement at SCCR 27.  We continue to engage productively with our national representatives, and were pleased to hear Australia’s declaration of support for the ‘ongoing work of the SCCR’ in the opening statement to the GA. 

Stay posted for further updates!

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