14 July 2014

Libraries and archives leave international copyright discussions empty handed after countries again fail to reach agreement

Discussions regarding an international copyright instrument for libraries and archives again collapsed inconclusively at the 28th meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright & Related Rights (SCCR) in Geneva, from Monday 30 June – Friday 4 July. In the early hours of Saturday 5 July, Member States finally “agreed to disagree” on any conclusions on copyright exceptions for libraries and archives, as well as a draft treaty for broadcasting.

It was a frustrating end to the week for library and archive organisations who had flown into Geneva from around the world to participate in the discussions, and an all-too-familiar repeat of the collapse of the last meeting of the SCCR in April 2014

This time, disagreement on conclusions for SCCR 28 was widespread among Member States, and not confined to the issue of copyright exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives. Progress towards a broadcasting treaty was also halted after vigorous dispute among Member States as to how advanced the discussions were, and when and if a Diplomatic Conference should be scheduled to finalise treaty discussions. The failure to reach conclusions at SCCR 28 falls within a general pattern that has emerged over several committee meetings since SCCR 27, with Member States seemingly unable to find common ground on a range of IP issues.

Despite the disappointing end to discussions at SCCR 28, libraries and archives had a productive week, beginning with a packed side event on Monday 30 June titled “Keeping Copyright Relevant in the digital environment: libraries, archives and licences”. Member States and NGOs heard from a range of speakers on the issues libraries and archives face with digital content licensing that override or restrict domestic copyright exceptions and limitations.

Two days during the week’s discussions were focused on copyright exceptions for libraries and archives, this time working through the US-proposed “principles” (non-binding) approach.  While Member States worked relatively constructively through the US principles during the time they had, its failure to address the growing cross border challenges facing libraries and archives in the digital environment was brought up repeatedly by countries including India, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, South Africa and Bangladesh. A number of Member States, including the EU, continued to insist that domestic copyright exceptions and the existing international framework was sufficient to meet the problems described by libraries and archives.

Ironically, in the same week the EU Commission was defending their existing copyright framework at WIPO, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner in Charge of the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, issued a rallying call for European copyright reform. In her speech to the Information Influx Conference on 2 July in Amsterdam, Commissioner Kroes highlighted the cross border nature of access to information online:

“What does pragmatic reform mean? It means more possibilities to access content online cross-border. It means more harmonised exceptions: benefiting researchers, teachers, cultural heritage, and user-producers. It means flexibility, so we don't have to have the same discussion every 5 years.”

How Member States are prepared to address the cross border nature of access to information through the SCCR at WIPO remains to be seen. Nevertheless, libraries and archives will continue to push for international solutions that meet the evolving services they provide in an increasingly borderless, global information environment. The next meeting of the SCCR takes place in December 2014, after the WIPO General Assembly in September 2014.

More information:

IFLA’s statement at SCCR 28 

Letter to EU Commission following SCCR 27 

Access to information, Access to knowledge, Advocacy, Copyright

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