Ahead of the meeting of WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights this week, we are happy to share an overview of the issues on the table, and some of the materials covered.

Limitations and exceptions: this remains the most significant issue on the table for us, offering the potential at least to move towards a legal instrument that helps ensure that libraries everywhere benefit from a basic set of possibilities under law in order to carry out their work.

Currently, too many countries still have no laws, or have laws that do not do enough to enable librarians to do their jobs. Moreover, the failure to update laws for the digital age risks taking libraries backwards, with activities covered by law in the case of physical works now dependent on contract terms.

The main thing on the committee agenda is how to deliver on the action plan agreed two meetings ago, following an initiative by the African Group.

The Action Plan is positive, leading the way at least to ‘objectives and principles’ on preservation, as well as digital uses for education and cross-border working. There remains no consensus on working towards a full legal instrument, but objectives and principles would at least be a step towards a stronger impulsion for governments to act.

However, there remains the risk that work will be delayed, due to opposition to more rapid advances in work, as well as a desire to focus on other issues. We hope that the Committee will stick to the proposal for an implementation plan, also prepared by the African Group at the last meeting.

In parallel, we are waiting for the publication of a toolkit on preservation. This will set out the different components and choices to be made when developing a preservation exception, for example what it covers, does it allow for pre-emptive preservation, and other such issues. While we will need to see a final version before being able to make a judgement, this has the potential to be very helpful for libraries and association around the world. Work is also (a priori) underway on a sister toolkit on access, something that we can welcome.

Outside of the substance of the toolkits, these sorts of output have the possibility to provide a useful and transparent basis for discussions about how to ensure that copyright laws are fit for purpose around preservation and access.

They could bring us a step closer to having an impulsion for governments to reform (as the Marrakesh Treaty did for provisions around accessible formats). On the other hand, they could also be an excuse for saying that WIPO has ‘done’ preservation, and that no more work is needed from the Committee. Clearly, we take the former position.

However, the SCCR agenda is getting busy. Likely the greatest focus will be on broadcasting, which has been on the SCCR agenda since the committee was created. There is a belief among some that we are near to agreement to move to a ‘diplomatic conference’ where a Treaty could be signed. Typically, this only happens when agreement is close enough that only a little extra work is needed to get things over the line.

The current broadcasting treaty draft text, however, is far from good enough. Despite claims that it originally would only focus on efforts to combat signal piracy, there are still rules in there that affect ‘post-fixation rights’ – i.e. what can be done with recordings of broadcasts.

While provisions on exceptions and limitations have been improved, they remain optional, leading to the potentially absurd situation where broadcasters enjoy more rights than other rightholders. In any case, any new rights are likely to exacerbate the orphan works problem.

Despite there being strong arguments for simply dropping the entire text, there are also strong voices in support of something here. Assuming that something happens, the optimal outcome for us likely implies both a slimming down of the text, notably to exclude provisions that would grant new rights, in particular ‘post-fixation’ rights (and instead oblige counties to find effective and proportionate ways of combatting signal piracy). We would also argue that any text, if passed, needs to oblige the inclusion of exceptions for preservation, research and other uses.

There is also a lot of focus on the situation of rightholders (and in particular creators) in the digital environment. While this has previously focused on music, the agenda seems to be opening up to other sectors with a proposed workplan. As it stands, it feels a lot like the ‘value gap’ discussions seen in other parts of the world, which often feel a lot more like they are about anti-trust (competition) than copyright, and which too often also lead to negative side-effects for other activities (such as for open access repositories).

For libraries, it makes sense to support progress towards a healthier relationship between commercial platforms and individual creators, at least insofar as it supports the availability of a wide range of content to users. We would be wary of this work leading to new rules which could impact research, education and freedom of expression.

Linked to this is another discussion on copyright and generative AI, driven by both the concern of creators about threats to their ability to make a living, as well as a sense of wanting to benefit from the economic dividend of AI. We know that the publishing industry is keen to control the AI training process, which can pose risks to text and data mining of library collections.

A final major item for libraries is the presentation of a study on public lending right (PLR) schemes (see also the annex). Despite the original stated goal of this study being to look at how such schemes could work in developing countries, this report is almost entirely European (with honourable mentions for Australia and Canada), and sheds no light on the conditions in place elsewhere.

The study does do a good job of underlining the different variables in play in defining PLR schemes (along the lines of advocacy materials previously prepared by PLR International), and repeats points about the money for this not coming from library budgets.

However, it is written primarily from the point of view of the collective management organisations and similar bodies which run such schemes. Furthermore, it includes a number of odd interpretations of law and IFLA texts, and makes no effort to explore whether PLR actually represents an efficient and effective way of supporting creativity. As such, while it may be a useful reference text, it is arguably nothing more than this.

Keep an eye on our website for reporting from the meeting, where IFLA is represented by Sara Benson, Head of the IFLA WIPO Delegation.