Panel at the WIPO Singapore Workshop. (l-r) Dr Yaniv Benhamou, Professor Kenneth Crews, Sylvie Forbin (WIPO), Professor Raquel Xalabarder, Professor Daniel Seng)

The first of three WIPO regional workshops focusing on the copyright needs of libraries, as well as archives, museums, education and research, took place in Singapore on 29-30 April. The meeting saw broad consensus that business-as-usual was not an option, and international action was necessary.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has a unique role in guiding governments towards optimal copyright laws.

In too many countries today, laws have not taken account of the needs of libraries and other cultural heritage, education and research institutions. This is often not deliberate, but rather due to the complexity of the issues, and the intense lobbying that can accompany reform processes.

Debates over the past thirteen years at WIPO have served to underline the valuable work that libraries perform. With a series of three workshops – the first of which was held in Singapore on 29-30 April for countries from the Asia-Pacific region, the focus moved to challenges and solutions.

A New Perspective

The opportunity to hold discussions outside of Geneva, where WIPO meetings usually take place, was a welcome one. A greater number of countries could be represented (33 in total), bringing a greater variety and depth of experience.

IFLA played an active role, with Farli Elnumeri (Indonesian Library Association), Ratna Mohamed Amin (Malaysian Library Association) and Jessica Coates (Australian Libraries Copyright Committee) ensuring that regional voices were heard.

Alongside representatives from the International Council on Archives, the International Council on Museums, Education International, Communia and others, they underlined the fact that too often, copyright laws simply do not reflect the practice of libraries today.

Inadequate laws not only fail to give librarians legal certainty when carrying out their missions, but can stand in the way of collaboration in support of better service to users.

Member states were receptive, recognising a real need for an update to copyright laws. WIPO itself could provide valuable support in this respect.

The International Dimension

Singapore National Library Board

Theoretically, it may be enough to leave decisions on domestic law up to decision-makers in national capitals. However, the only way to find a solution for international cooperation – document supply, preservation networks, or making works available on the internet – is international action.

Moreover, with many governments facing multiple challenges and limited capacity, international action also promises to offer key guidance and impetus for national reforms.

Member states broadly agreed with this perspective, with three of the four groups recommending that an international legal instrument should be part of the package of work to be undertaken by WIPO. The fourth, while not mentioning international work, nonetheless welcomed greater support to national policy making.

Experts invited along by WIPO welcomed the perspectives offered. While their own recommendations differed, they were also clear about the need for change, and to find ways to enable international cooperation.

The results of the discussions will be included into a report which, alongside the results of seminars to be held in Nairobi, Kenya (12-13 June) and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (4-5 July) will feed into a global conference in October in Geneva. This will advise WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights on potential next steps.

IFLA will be attending all of the planned meetings, making the case for action that does the best for libraries.

Read more about IFLA's work on copyright exceptions and limitations for libraries. Listen again to our webinar recorded in advance of the Singapore workshop. See our infographic about copyright laws in the Asia-Pacific region produced for the workshop.