5 July 2021
Need for reform recognised, but action waits again: 41st session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights
From 28 June to 1 July, IFLA participated in the 41st session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR41) at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The session took the shape of a hybrid session with many delegations joining remotely, both governments and observers such as IFLA. As previously agreed by WIPO Members, given the fact that so many could not be present, the meeting focused on advancing discussions around issues on the agenda, rather than taking firm decisions.
A busy agenda
Over the four days, items covered included new potential rights for broadcasting organisations, exceptions and limitations for libraries, archives, museums and educational and research institutions, and other matters which includes copyright in the digital environment, resale right, rights of theatre directors and a proposal for study on public lending right (PLR).
On broadcasting, IFLA recalled the importance of including adequate exceptions and limitations to ensure that any new rights would not stand unreasonably in the way of public interest activities.
Broadcast material had been essential for much education during the pandemic, and of course represents a key part of the historic record. Any steps that make it more difficult to draw on it yos support learning or to carry out preservation risk causing harm without any particular benefit to rightholders.
IFLA called for the introduction of provisions at least mirroring those already included in WIPO’s Rome Convention, allowing preservation and access for education and research. Many Member States echoed this call, underlining also the need for greater transparency in work to prepare new drafts of a suggested Treaty on the topic.
Limitations and exceptions at the time of COVID
Concerning the main agenda item on exceptions and limitations, IFLA highlighted the lack or inadequacy of copyright laws for heritage preservation in particular. Too many countries still have no provisions on preservation, while even those who do have often not adapted their laws to the digital age, including by offering remote access to preserved works.
Furthermore, libraries face uncertainty in working across borders to form preservation networks, in order to help combat the risk of degradation and loss of collections, in particular in the face of climate change.
As a first step, IFLA has therefore called for the development of model laws or provisions on the subject, as well as for progress towards an international instrument, in order to enable all cultures to safeguard their heritage.
Looking beyond preservation, IFLA and others also highlighted the degree to which COVID had made clear the need for laws which allow libraries to provide access to information digitally, for example through lending, access to copies of works, storytimes and beyond. This need was recognised by a number of Member States, recognising the unnecessary disruption caused by the pandemic.
Partner organisations working on education and research reiterated these points, calling alongside IFLA for an effort to provide clarity on which flexibilities exist under international law.
In parallel, representatives of performers and others argued that the impacts of COVID on the wider creative sector should be considered.
Promoting a holistic approach to supporting creators
Regarding the item on a proposed study on public lending right (PLR) in developing countries, IFLA reiterated its support for a fair remuneration of authors. However, IFLA also noted concerns about the impact that the Public Lending Right will have in developing countries, given the risk of limiting the funding of libraries.
We recalled that libraries are resource tools for many communities and help to create and open up educational and professional opportunities for children, young people and adults, by developing literacy programmes, providing access to information and education, research and combating misinformation. Libraries are important allies for the development of societies and communities.
Within this framework, IFLA suggested reframing the study to take a more holistic approach, considering the cost-effectiveness of different means of supporting authors and creators such as direct subsidies, tax benefits or reversion rights. Such an approach would also allow for the costs of such initiatives to be fully considered.
While some Member States welcomed the proposal for the study, others noted the number of items already on the agenda, as well as the need for balance in such work.
Requirements recognised, but action delayed
The session provided a welcome opportunity to hear the ongoing support from many Member States for work to give libraries, as well as archives, museums, educators and researchers a copyright framework that allows them to complete their missions.
Yet work is still needed to convince all Member States to support their libraries. In part, this will need to come from combating the impression too often given that enabling libraries to carry out their missions risks coming at the expense of creators themselves.
While there are certainly concerns about the impact of new business models and wider trends on the different industries built around copyright and the writers and other creators who underpin them, IFLA argues that it is not by holding back, or trying to extract more fees from libraries that we will find effective solutions.
Indeed, through their work to support literacy, ensure preservation, and develop the readers and researchers of the future, libraries represent a support, not a cost. to the creative sector.
With no decisions possible at this meeting, and no further sessions of the Committee planned this year, we will need to wait until 2022 in order to be able to advance work formally on these issues, as well as to hold an information session on the impact of COVID on those working with copyright. This should cover both creators and other rightholders, and those depending on limitations and exceptions to copyright.
IFLA will continue to work with its members, as well as governments at WIPO and beyond, in order to promote appropriate and balanced legal frameworks.