Through two events at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, IFLA helped explore the indispensable – and undisputed – role of exceptions and limitations in achieving the public interest mission of libraries.

Copyright is often highly politicised, with discussions risking being reduced to a conflict between ‘big tech’ and ‘big content’.

Yet behind this, there is general consensus on the importance of exceptions and limitations, with the only contention being around their extent and form.

Two events, in the margin of the 38th meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, offered scope to explore these issues.


Beyond Clichés: Building a Realistic View of the Role of Copyright Exceptions

A balanced copyright system requires both rights, and exceptions to rights in order to work.

This implies, importantly, that while licences are essential for gaining access and some uses of works, especially in a digital age, they are not suitable for certain materials and certain uses.  

Presenters underlined both the role that exceptions play in allowing for non-commercial uses of works, such as preservation or lending, and the limits of licensing as an answer to copyright issues.

They also explored the value of work at WIPO in response to the growing need for solutions to cross-border uses of works.


A Unique Situation: The Case of Archival Collections

Archival works often consist of documents and other materials which were never created for commercial purposes, where, often, it is not even clear who the rightholder is, and where collections can be spread across borders.

This creates significant problems, given the obligations that copyright places on anyone wanting to preserve or use such works (subject to ethical considerations), despite the lack of harm that this would cause.

Speakers highlighted the need for exceptions and limitations with cross-border effect as the only viable solution. Extended collective licensing, while it can work in certain circumstances, is not appropriate for archival material.

In the meanwhile, discussions about exceptions and limitations in formal session at WIPO will start tomorrow.

Read about IFLA’s plans for SCCR.