4 June 2012

IFLA participates in ‘Making Copyright Work for Libraries and Consumers’

Making Copyright Work for Libraries and Consumers; photo courtesy of European Union

A one day Copyright for Creativity workshop at the European Parliament Library, Brussels

On Wednesday 30th May IFLA, along with the European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA), Electronic Information For Libraries (eIFL), Informations Sans Frontières (ISF), Copyright for Creativity (C4C), the European Consumers’ Organisation (BEUC), and Consumers International (CI) organised a one-day event at the European Parliament in Brussels. The event focused on the role of libraries in providing access to cultural works, and how copyright can be made more consumer-friendly in the digital age. In the audience were Members of the European Parliament, European Commission staff, and European librarians, consumer organizations, NGOs and trade associations.

The morning focused on libraries with a session titled “Index or footnote? How to ensure that libraries power the information society”. The Chair of IFLA’s FAIFE Committee and National Librarian of Finland Kai Ekholm gave a keynote presentation on the challenges of the new book economy for libraries, addressing such issues as eBook lending, monopolies in the publishing sector, and the need for new funding and market solutions to let libraries carry out their function in the digital age. With the scene set, representatives from IFLA, EBLIDA, ISF and the Danish Library Union then participated in a panel discussion aimed at explaining why libraries could be helped by updated copyright limitations and exceptions which can cope with today’s digital environment.

MEP Marietje Schaake; photo courtesy of European Union

MEP Marietje Schaake; photo courtesy of European Union

Following a presentation on international copyright frameworks by Lucie Guibault, senior researcher at the Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam, and an introduction of the Draft Treaty Proposal that IFLA, EIFL and Innovarte have presented to Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a final political debate on library exceptions took place featuring Maria Martin-Prat, the head of the Copyright unit at the European Commission, MEP Marietje Schaake, a key sponsor of the event and a digital rights champion in the EU Parliament, and Luciano Mazza de Andrade from the Permanent Mission of Brazil in Brussels. Brazil is active at WIPO in support of an international instrument on exceptions for libraries and archives, while the European Union, led by the European Commission, is more reluctant to engage in any exercise that could lead to a binding solution.

Throughout the morning panelists and audience members went back and forth on the issues and, due to the diverse nature of the participants, a variety of viewpoints were put forward – many in support of copyright reform to benefit libraries but others which expressed satisfaction that current international copyright frameworks were flexible enough for the situation libraries face.

The afternoon session, titled ‘I Want it Now! Creators addressing consumers' needs in the digital agefocused on the confusion that consumers feel when faced with  complex, legalistic arguments for not doing things that have become part of online life – such as recording TV shows for later viewing, backing-up purchased digital downloads, or quoting from a book in a school assignment. While these uses may be tolerated by rightsholders, their lawfulness varies from country to country. Consumer expectations and the law are now so unbalanced that the unfortunate result is frustration at copyright law in general.

Making Copyright Work for Libraries and Consumers; photo courtesy of European Union

What became clear throughout the afternoon’s debates was that both libraries and consumers are operating in very grey areas when it comes to the use of copyrighted materials. For example, one debate, on the proposition “There are uses of music in education that should never require payment’ featured representatives of collecting societies, musicians and composers. While music was the main subject, there was also time for panellists to discuss whether libraries should pay license fees to read aloud to children at storytime – as happens in Belgium.

The overall conclusion of the day was that both the ways consumers use digital information, and the ways users want to access digital information through libraries, seem out of step with current copyright frameworks. It seems that the European Union is beginning to recognise this, but a significant amount of time in both the morning and afternoon sessions focused on just how slow the law moves compared to technology, and how difficult it is to get libraries’ and consumers’ voices heard when well-funded lobby groups are active across European political institutions to protect existing interests. Maria Martin-Prat stated in her opening remarks that in the past libraries have not been present in Brussels to add their voice to those of other lobbyists, but she admitted that the situation had changed in the recent past and libraries were now offering valuable opinions at a time when the Commission is considering important changes to legislation such as Directives on orphan works, public sector information and reform of collecting societies. The day’s frank debates made it clear that library and consumer groups have to stay present and engaged at national and international levels in order to persuade policymakers of the value of fit-for-purpose copyright frameworks that protect the public interest.

For further information about the event, please contact: stuart.hamilton@ifla.org

CLM (Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters)

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