IFLA Engages at WIPO General Assembly
28 September 2020
From 21 to 25 September 2020 the General Assembly of WIPO- the World Intellectual Property Organization – took place in hybrid mode in Geneva and online. IFLA worked alongside partners to represent and promote libraries and their interests on intellectual property issues.
The agenda of this, the 61st meeting, included several important items including the overall governance of the Organization, programming and budgeting, the Treaties of which WIPO is the guardian, and staffing matters.
While not on the agenda, a key theme in the meeting was the imminent departure of Dr Francis Gurry, who for 12 years has been Director General of the Organization. Dr Gurry opened the meeting with a report on what he viewed as the highlights of his tenure, with Member States subsequently commending all he had accomplished, and welcoming his successor Mr. Daren Tang (Singapore).
IFLA, like others, highlighted in particular the success of the Treaty of Marrakesh, agreed under Dr Gurry’s leadership in 2013. This Treaty, aimed at facilitating access to published works for people who are blind or visually impaired, has now been ratified, or acceded to, by 71 contracting parties, which together with Europe brings the number of ratifying countries to 98 countries.
In its statement, IFLA congratulated WIPO on the work done, highlighting the essential role of libraries in the ABC Book Service. IFLA also stressed the need to continue promoting accurate information about the Treaty in order to ensure the most effective possible implementations at the national level.
Unlike in previous years, there was no specific agenda item for the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, where IFLA focuses its efforts to promote international legal action on copyright exceptions and limitations for libraries.
In advance of the meeting, Member States had underlined their unwillingness to discuss law-making activities while delegates from national intellectual property authorities could not attend in person.
Nonetheless, IFLA used its general statement to underline the case that COVID-19 has made for ensuring that libraries can rely on legal guarantees in order to carry on supporting education, research and access to culture, rather than just goodwill. Both of IFLA’s Statements are copied at bottom.
A key moment of controversy was around the opposition of China to the application of the Wikimedia Foundation as an observer to WIPO on a mixture of procedural and political grounds. As a result, the candidacy is now suspended until a next meeting of WIPO in 2021.
The blocking of the Foundation’s application is troubling, given the shared goals that IFLA and Wikimedia share. The intervention of the United States in order to support Wikimedia’s foundation was therefore welcome, but the silence of other blocs less so.
With no formal discussion of WIPO’s law-making agenda, there remain questions about the mandate for WIPO’s policy committees, including the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights.
In order to facilitate the work carried out within the Organization, Member States therefore agreed to hold an exceptional assembly within WIPO in the first half of 2021.
ITEM 5: General Statements
Thank you, I am speaking on behalf of IFLA, representing 2.5 million libraires globally.
First of all, I would like to share our condolences for the passing of Carole Croella of the Copyright Law Division – her dedication and professionalism did huge credit to WIPO and to the UN as a whole.
I would also like to thank Dr Gurry for his leadership, insights and support, and in particular the Marrakesh Treaty, and to wish you well in the future. Similarly, we congratulate, and strongly look forward to working with Mr Tang.
COVID-19 has shown that we need rules that work in the digital age, allowing libraries to support education, research and culture online as well as off. We of course welcome the goodwill shown by rightholders. But voluntary actions cannot substitute for the clarity and certainty that legislative action can offer. WIPO has a unique power to make this happen, helping governments and stakeholders alike.
ITEM 16: Marrakesh Treaty Assembly
Thank you, Mr Chair, and congratulations for your work both in the negotiation of the Marrakesh Treaty, and the work you are doing now within Ecuador.
I am speaking on behalf of IFLA, which brings together libraires globally, including those working to support users with print disabilities.
I wanted to congratulate WIPO on the recent ratifications and accessions, as well as the work of the ABC, which brings together so many libraries to provide access. It is a great indication of what WIPO can do to correct the market failures copyright can create, deliver the SDGs, and the demand that exists for this work.
Looking forward, the work highlighted by Mme Forbin to build understanding of the Treaty continues to be essential, as we still see misunderstandings which risk weakening its impact. Work to analyse the impact of the Treaty on access and markets would also be powerful, as well as consideration of an expansion to people with other disabilities and the institutions that serve them.