IFLA has joined with partners in signing a call for World Trade Organization Members to make it clear that where intellectual property rights make it more difficult to tackle COVID-19 and its consequences, governments should be able to take steps to enable use of protected works.

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised important questions about the appropriateness of existing intellectual property regimes to deliver on key public interest goals.

The value of flexibilities has been made clear by the ways in which they have helped, for example allowing for the text and data mining that helped uncover the spread of the virus, or the ease of running online storytimes in some countries.

The costs of a lack of flexibilities have also been apparent, in questions about which rules should apply to vaccines, and the difficulties faced in switching in person research, education and cultural activities online.

Libraries have not been spared this, with much time and effort taken up to find ways to allow for storytimes in countries with less generous rules, or to provide students, researchers and teachers with materials online. Voluntary measures to provide access have been welcome, but have been inconsistent, and too often have lapsed even as the pandemic has continued.

Faced with the urgency of understanding the pandemic, identifying treatments and cures, and allowing key public interest activities to continue as best possible, the case for a waiver to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) is clear.

To encourage the necessary action by the members of the World Trade Organization, IFLA has joined over 100 other research and education organisations, as well as academics and other individuals in signing onto a statement.

This underlines the inequalities in access exposed by the pandemic, and the significant negative impact this has on the enjoyment of rights. It calls on governments to endorse proposals on the table at the WTO to agree a waiver to international trade rules on intellectual property – including copyright – to allow governments to take the steps needed to overcome the virus.

IFLA will continue to work, alongside its partners, to call for change not only at the WTO, but also at the World Intellectual Property Organization, whose ability to make a positive difference was underlined with the agreement of the Treaty of Marrakesh in 2013.

Find out more about our work on international law and copyright.