The 39th meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights saw the shape of a possible agreement on preservation emerge, but also continued opposition from countries denying the reality of cross-border collaboration between libraries.

From 21 to 25 October 2019, the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) held its 39th meeting in Geneva.

The objective of this committee is to promote a balanced copyright regime, through adopting international copyright rules and recommendations.

At the 39th SCCR, IFLA engaged in discussions with Member States on exceptions and limitations to copyright for libraries, archives, museums, education and research. These are the provisions, in law, that allow libraries to carry out activities such as preservation, lending or taking copies for research.

Making the Voice of Libraries Heard

Working with our partners, IFLA made the voices of libraries heard, highlighting the need for an international legal instrument to enable heritage institutions to continue their mission of heritage preservation, education and access to research.

We underlined that libraries have a unique, non-profit mission to allow society to access their heritage, and to support education and research.

However, too many countries do not have the legal framework necessary to allow for digitization of heritage collections in order to preserve them from deterioration, climate change-related disasters or conflicts.

Furthermore, the lack of international rules means that cross-border collaborations – for example digital unification projects or preservation networks – face uncertainty and risk being abandoned.

An Emerging Agreement Still Faces Resistance

Coming out of the three regional workshops organised by WIPO, there appeared to be growing consensus on the need to act to ensure preservation, and in particular to pass rules that would allow libraries to work across borders.

Even member states that had reservations about more ambitious steps seemed to agree on the value of preservation as a first step. Those which have traditionally focused on helping libraries and their users continued to speak up.

However, a number of Member States – primarily richer ones in the European Union (EU) – continued to pretend that there was no need for any meaningful action.

They were helped in this by the prominence given to promoting licencing solutions in the design of the programme of the international conference held at the end of the previous week.

While licencing plays an important role in giving access to works, it is simply not appropriate in all situations. Even where it can play a role, solutions can be inefficient, non-transparent, or simply not work well for libraries.

The resistance to action risks effectively setting back by years efforts to ensure that libraries in every country have the laws they need to be able to preserve their heritage.

It is particularly hard to understand when the EU itself has recently passed its own laws which bring copyright rules for preservation into the digital age.

Next Steps

In the face of the denial of the need to act, it was necessary for IFLA to work hard to maintain the focus on the original mandate of the Committee – to agree on an international instrument – as agreed by the General Assembly in 2012.

With thanks to all those who engaged, these efforts paid off, and we have a further seven months to advocate for international action with national governments.

IFLA will be in contact with its members, and encourages all others who believe that libraries should be able to carry out their missions in a digital, globalised world, to bring this message to the attention of their copyright offices.

We invite you to look at the documents produced in this context:

* Our report from the International Conference.

* Reports from the regional workshops in Singapore, Nairobi and Santo Domingo.

* Our infographics on limitations and exceptions around the world, and summary analysis

* Our guide “Get Into WIPO