The IFLA Position on Copyright in the Digital Environment (2000)

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IFLA is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) which exists to undertake, support and co-ordinate research and studies, and disseminate information about all aspects of library and information work world wide and to organise meetings and training in this field.

In the international copyright debate, IFLA represents the interests of the world's libraries and their users. Copyright law impacts on most of what libraries do. It affects the services that libraries can provide to their users, and the conditions on which they can provide access to copyright materials. It affects the way in which libraries can act as navigational agents and undertake effective archiving and preservation activities. It is for these reasons that IFLA participates in the international copyright debate.

Balanced Copyright is for everybody

Librarians and information professionals recognise, and are committed to support the needs of their patrons to gain access to copyright works and the information and ideas they contain. They also respect the needs of authors and copyright owners to obtain a fair economic return on their intellectual property. Effective access is essential in achieving copyright's objectives. IFLA supports balanced copyright law that promotes the advancement of society as a whole by giving strong and effective protection for the interests of rightsholders as well as reasonable access in order to encourage creativity, innovation, research, education and learning.

IFLA supports the effective enforcement of copyright and recognises that libraries have a crucial role to play in controlling as well as facilitating access to the increasing number of local and remote electronic information resources. Librarians and information professionals promote respect for copyright and actively defend copyright works against piracy, unfair use and unauthorised exploitation, in both the print and the digital environment. Libraries have long acknowledged that they have a role in informing and educating users about the importance of copyright law and in encouraging compliance.

However, IFLA maintains that overprotection of copyright could threaten democratic traditions and impact on social justice principles by unreasonably restricting access to information and knowledge. If copyright protection is too strong, competition and innovation is restricted and creativity is stifled.

In the Digital Environment

Information is increasingly being produced in digital format. New communications technologies bring unprecedented opportunities for improving access to information and technology has the potential to improve communication and access for those disadvantaged by distance or economic circumstances. However, we now know that technology also has the potential to further stratify society into the information-haves and the information-have-nots. If reasonable access to copyright works is not maintained in the digital environment, a further barrier will be erected which will deny access to those who cannot afford to pay.

Libraries will continue to play a critical role in ensuring access for all in the information society. Properly functioning national and international networks of library and information services are critical to the provision of access to information. Traditionally, libraries have been able to provide reasonable access to the purchased copies of copyright works held in their collections. However, if in future all access and use of information in digital format becomes subject to payment, a library's ability to provide access to its users will be severely restricted In order to maintain a balance between the interests of rights holders and users, IFLA has developed the following statement of principles.

Digital is not Different

The Berne Convention permits members of the Berne Union to grant exceptions in certain special cases which do not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author.

 In 1996, the members of the World Intellectual Property Organisation adopted two treaties to update copyright law for the digital environment. In confirming that existing exceptions and limitations can be carried forward and extended in the digital environment, WIPO countries rejected the claim that "digital is different". Contracting parties are allowed to carry forward and extend such limitations in the digital environment, and create new exceptions where appropriate.

IFLA maintains that unless libraries and citizens are granted exceptions which allow access and use without payment for purposes which are in the public interest and in line with fair practice such as education and research, there is a danger that only those who can afford to pay will be able to take advantage of the benefits of the Information Society. This will lead to an even greater divide between the information rich and the information poor. Further, there should be no discrimination in copyright laws against visually, aurally or learning disabled persons. Reformatting of material to make it accessible should not be considered an infringement of copyright and should be considered as reasonable access.

  1. In national copyright legislation, exceptions to copyright and related rights, allowed in the Berne Convention and endorsed by the WIPO treaties should be revised if necessary to ensure that permitted uses apply equally to information in electronic form and to information in print.
  2. For copying over and above these provisions there should be administratively simple payment schemes.
  3. Temporary or technical copies which are incidental to the use of copyright material should be excluded from the scope of the reproduction right.
  4. For works in digital format, without incurring a charge or seeking permission all users of a library should be able to:
    • browse publicly available copyright material;
    • read, listen to, or view publicly marketed copyright material privately, on site or remotely;
    • copy, or have copied for them by library and information staff a reasonable proportion of a digital work in copyright for personal, educational or research use.

Information resource sharing

Resource sharing plays a crucial role in education, democracy, economic growth, health and welfare and personal development. It facilitates access to a wide range of information, which would not otherwise be available to the user, library or country requesting it. Resource sharing is not a mechanism to reduce costs but to expand availability to those who, for economic, technical or social reasons cannot have access to the information directly.

  • Providing access to a digital format of a protected work to a user for a legitimate purpose such as research or study should be a permitted act under copyright law.

Lending

Non-commercial public lending is not an activity that has traditionally been controlled by copyright law. Public lending is essential to culture and education. It should be available to all. Information packaged in all formats has and will become part of the lending stock. Lending in turn assists in the marketing of commercially packaged information and encourages sales. Libraries are, in effect, catalysts for the sale of information in all of its formats. Therefore, any legal or contractual restraints put on lending would be to the disadvantage of rights holdersas well as to the libraries themselves.

  • The lending of published physical format digital materials (for example CD-ROMs) by libraries should not be restricted by legislation.
  • Contractual provisions, for example within licensing agreements, should not override reasonable lending of electronic resources by library and information staff.

Preservation and conservation

Libraries collect and preserve information. In fact, the responsibility for preserving information and culture belongs to the library and information profession. Copyright law should not prevent libraries from relying on new technology to improve preservation techniques.

  • Legislation should give libraries and archives permission to convert copyright protected materials into digital format for preservation and conservation related purposes.
  • Legislation should also cover the legal deposit of electronic media.

Contracts and Copy Protection Systems

Copyright protection should encourage not inhibit, use and creativity. Copyright law should not give rightsholders the power to use technological or contractual measures to override the exceptions and limitations to copyright and distort the balance set in international and domestic copyright legislation. Licensing agreements should complement copyright legislation, not replace it. Access to information, rather than control of information, increases use. Indeed studies have shown that too much control, in the form of technical protection, iscounterproductive. Circumvention of technological measures for non-infringing activities should be enabled.

  • National copyright legislation should render invalid any terms of a licence that restrict or override exceptions or limitations embodied in copyright law where the licence is established unilaterally by the rightsholders without the opportunity for negotiation of the terms of the licence by the user.
  • National copyright laws should aim for a balance between the rights of copyright owners to protect their interests through technical means and the rights of users to circumvent such measures for legitimate, noninfringing purposes.

Liability for Copyright Infringement

 Although, libraries as intermediaries have an important role to play in ensuring compliance with copyright law, liability should ultimately rest with the infringer.

  • Copyright law should enunciate clear limitations on liability of third parties in circumstances where compliance cannot practically or reasonably be enforced.

Summary of Principles

In order to maintain a balance between the interests of rights holders and users, IFLA has developed the following state of principles.

  1. In national copyright legislation, exceptions to copyright and related rights, allowed in the Berne Convention and endorsed by the WIPO treaties should be revised if necessary to ensure that permitted uses apply equally to information in electronic form and information in print.
  2. For copying over and above these provisions there should be administratively simple payment schemes.
  3. Temporary or technical copies which are incidental to the use of copyright material should be excluded from the scope of the reproduction right.
  4. For works in digital format, without incurring a charge or seeking permission all users of a library should be able to:
    • browse publicly available copyright material;
    • read, listen to, or view publicly marketed copyright material privately, on site or remotely;
    • copy, or have copied for them by library and information staff, a reasonable portion of a digital work in copyright for personal, educational or research use
  5. Providing access to a digital format of a protected work to a user for a legitimate purpose such as research or study should be permitted under copyright law.
  6. The lending of published physical format digital materials (for example CD ROMs) by libraries should not be restricted by legislation.
  7. Contractual provisions, for example, within licensing arrangements, should not override reasonable lending of electronic resources by library staff.
  8. Legislation should give libraries and archives permission to convert copyright protected materials into digital format for preservation and conversation related purposes.
  9. Legislation should also cover the legal deposit of electronic media.
  10. National copyright legislation should render invalid any terms of a license that restrict or override exceptions or limitations embodied in copyright law where the license is established unilaterally by the rightholders without the opportunity for negotiation of the terms of the license by the user.
  11. National copyright laws should aim for a balance between the rights of copyright owners to protect their interests through technical means and the rights of users to circumvent such measures for legitimate, non-infringing purposes.
  12. Copyright law should enunciate clear limitations on liability of third parties in circumstances where compliance cannot practically or reasonably be enforced.

Approved by the IFLA Executive Board
August 2000

Statements, CLM (Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters)

Last update: 27 January 2015