From 13-17 March, the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s lead body focused on copyright – the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights – will meet in Geneva. Key discussions include the presentation of a toolkit on preservation, and discussions on facilitating cross-border working. IFLA will be there to represent the needs and interests of libraries.

At just its second in-person meeting since the pandemic, there is a busy agenda for WIPO’s copyright committee, with a wealth of evidence and experience shared.

Crucially, the question remains of whether Member States will be able to come to agreement on taking practical steps to facilitate the work of libraries on behalf of their users. This will require both practical support – guidance, toolkits, and capacity building – and more far-reaching efforts to build harmonisation of laws to enable cross-border working and minimum standards.

Building resilience: preservation on the agenda

A significant part of the agenda this meeting will be given over to the presentation of a toolkit on preservation exceptions, prepared by experts on behalf of the WIPO Secretariat.

This cannot come soon enough, with legal or regulatory barriers to preservation copying making it difficult to safeguard knowledge in the face of deterioration or disaster.

This is a new type of document for WIPO, but one that looks to bring valuable structure to any effort to look through the wide range of statutes in place around the world that enable libraries, archives and others to carry out preservation copying.

While making sure to highlight the full range of possible legislation, the toolkit underlines key points about the value of simplicity, adaptation to the digital environment, and avoiding ‘dark archiving’ – situations where materials are preserved but not available to the public.

The toolkit has the potential to be very useful for lawmakers, but only if accompanied by a similar look at possibilities for providing access to the collections of libraries and other institutions. This will be the key point made by IFLA delegates at the meeting, in addition to underlining the limits of any purely national approaches.

Enabling a global knowledge commons: promoting cross-border knowledge exchange

A very welcome proposal by African countries at the last meeting saw a number of valuable initiatives launched, which are beginning to deliver results now.

These include an effort – after many years – to address explicitly the question of cross-border cooperation. This is often made far more difficult than it needs to be because of differences between national copyright laws. Even where these may not explicitly block cooperation, the uncertainty they create can have the same effect.

A panel session will talk about the experience of researchers in particular in cooperation, and is likely to highlight the challenges that libraries face in working with users based elsewhere.

IFLA will not only be supporting this, but also underlining the need to ensure that preservation is recognised as a cross-border activity, a point highlighted in our report published last week.

Beyond this, we’re looking forward to an initial presentation of work on research rights, and will be joining with colleagues in the wider education, research and user-rights sectors to call for progress on those elements of the African proposal that did not get immediately agreed.

Other agenda items include a proposed broadcasting treaty, which has been widely criticised for being irrelevant in the age of streaming, and an proposal on public lending right that, by taking a strangely narrow and unbalanced approach, would contribute little to ensuring better livelihoods for authors.

Follow us on social media (here and here) throughout the event for updates!