WIPO: Major Movement on Visually Impaired Instrument, Audiovisual Treaty
The World Intellectual Property Organisation's (WIPO) copyright negotiating body agreed last week to move forward on an instrument that would facilitate access to copyrighted works by visually impaired persons and others with print or reading disabilities. A vast cross-regional coalition of members, including Argentina, Brazil, the EU, and the US, came forward in support of a joint document that will significantly pave the way for agreement on an instrument on limitations and exceptions - a first at WIPO - further down the line.
The limitations and exceptions instrument discussed at the 15-24 June meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) would allow visually impaired readers access to works that would be normally unavailable to them under national copyright laws or cross-border regulations.
Although the issue of limitations and exceptions for persons with print disabilities has been on the agenda for only two years, many countries found that it was time to take steps towards an international treaty. Brazil noted that the committee is "in a position to make a significant contribution to mitigate the plight of more than 150 million human beings...who have limited access to education and culture."
At the beginning of the session, a cross-regional group of member states that featured Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, and the US put forth a "consensus document" that sought to bring together a range of viewpoints on the subject. Some member states took issue with calling the text a consensus document, as a consensus document would need to meet the approval of all members. The document was then submitted as a formal proposal for an instrument, with additional endorsement by Colombia, the EU, Norway, Russia, and Uruguay.
Chair Manuel Guerra Zamarro from Mexico followed by issuing a Chair's document that included comments from all members, which allowed the committee to move forward with the consideration of a single text.
Despite this development, disagreement remains about the future instrument's legal nature, as developing countries - like the African Group and the Development Agenda Group - still hope for a treaty in the long term. However, the US and EU still favour a soft law approach in the form of a joint recommendation.
A representative from the World Blind Union found the new visually impaired text "pretty good and workable" and expressed the organisation's commitment to a legally binding treaty.
Ultimately, the committee agreed that the Chair will recommend to the WIPO General Assembly that the discussions continue "with the aim to agree and finalise a basic proposal for an international legal instrument."
Audiovisual treaty in the works after decade-long suspension
Members also managed to reach agreement on the contentious issue of transfer rights from performers to producers, a topic that had stalled negotiations at a 2000 diplomatic conference regarding a treaty for the protection of audiovisual performances.
At the time, the US and EU clashed on the transfer rights issue, particularly since their national laws differ greatly on the subject. The US insisted that the automatic transfer of rights to audiovisual producers would simplify distribution and licensing, while the EU argued that the transfer of rights could and should only happen with the performer's explicit consent.
Last week's move, which included rewording the article in question so that it balances the rights of both performers and producers of audiovisual material, could ease the way for the adoption of the treaty. The draft treaty's other 19 articles have already been agreed upon.
The new article transfers rights to the producer unless there is a contract to the contrary; it also allows for other agreements that can provide the performer with the right to remuneration for their work. These matters are ultimately deferred to individual members' national legislation.
A representative from the International Federation of Actors commended the committee's work and said that "while there is far to go before a treaty is concluded, today's action was a crucial step forward toward establishing protection for actors at the international level."
However, some countries expressed their frustration with a "double standard" that could allow for quicker movement towards an audiovisual treaty but not one for the visually impaired.
Venezuela regretted that "the audiovisual treaty, which is a matter of economic interests, is being taken up before the instrument for the visually impaired, which is a matter of human rights."
Protection for broadcasting organisations advances
Members also made progress regarding the protection of broadcasting organisations, agreeing to a work plan that could facilitate negotiations for an international instrument. The work plan seeks to "progress work on a draft treaty" and includes an informal consultation two days prior to the next session of the SCCR, which would later lead to a "recommendation to the 2012 WIPO General Assembly on the possible scheduling of a Diplomatic Conference."
The rights of broadcasters are currently addressed by the 1961 Rome Convention, yet some member states and media broadcasters feel it necessary to update them in face of rampant piracy and technological changes.
However, a number of civil society organizations and technology industry groups argued that the SCCR should not focus on an issue that has been inactive for a decade and on rights that are already covered, to a large degree, by existing laws. Critics added that so far they have not heard "a single example of harm to broadcasters which cannot be remedied using existing international norms in the field."
Similarly, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) expressed that they saw "no justification for further copyrighting of signals...even major intended beneficiaries of protection of this treaty don't want copyright in their signals."
Nevertheless, the committee approved the Chair's work plan, which the US said "seems to try to reach compromise on so many of the points that were discussed in the Committee." The discussion regarding the protection of broadcasting organisations will continue at the SCCR's November session.
The next session of the SCCR is also expected to tackle the issue of limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries and archives in greater detail, in accordance with the work programme agreed upon last December's SCCR session. This week, the committee heard a presentation of a revised proposal by the African Group entitled "Draft WIPO Treaty on Exceptions and Limitations for persons with disabilities, educational and research institutions, libraries and archives."
Parallel to the SCCR, WIPO and the Internet Society hosted a panel on the "Role and Responsibility of Internet Intermediaries in the Field of Copyright." The meeting brought together experts to address a wide array of issues and national experiences related to this topic, particularly from countries that had introduced graduated response measures, such as France, or were considering similar coercive approaches, i.e. Spain. However, no representative of internet intermediaries spoke at the event. WIPO signalled its intention to continue work in this area.
ICTSD reporting. "International Treaty for the Protection of Audiovisual Performances Advances at WIPO Meetings-SAD and Actors Unions from Across the Globe Lend Support," SCREEN ACTORS GUILD NEWS, 24 June 2011; "WIPO Committee Sees Breakthrough on Audiovisual Treaty After 11-Year Delay," IP WATCH, 24 June 2011.