WIPO Ctte Launches “Marathon Session” on Libraries, Archives, Reading Disabled Instrument

23 November 2011

The World Intellectual Property Organization's copyright body kicked off negotiations this week, with the goal of advancing major work on exceptions and limitations instruments for libraries and archives and the reading disabled.  However, significant debate on whether these instruments should be legally binding treaties or soft law instruments, such as joint recommendations, has put developing and developed countries at odds with one another.

The previous session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) saw a coalition of countries - including the US, Brazil, Argentina and the EU - come together to support an instrument for the reading disabled (see Bridges Weekly 29 June 2011) and agreeing to the compilation of a Chair document based on the discussions that took place. That session also agreed to move forward a previously stalled treaty for the protection of audiovisual performances and advance discussions on an instrument to protect broadcasting organisations.

In the current session, the SCCR is placing major focus on copyright limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives, with three days of discussion being dedicated to the issue. WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry, in his opening address, called this a "marathon session" of the SCCR, hoping it can find a "clearer way forward" on the libraries and archives item.

In a statement to the SCCR on Monday 21 November, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) recalled that "libraries and archives currently work under a patchwork of provisions that differ in scope and effect from country to country... [and they] increasingly fail to address the legal and policy challenges and opportunities of the global digital environment."

"Now more than ever, libraries need copyright frameworks that recognise the importance...of libraries and their users," it added.

Substantive proposals on libraries and archives have been submitted to this session by Brazil, with amendments from Ecuador and Uruguay, the African Group and the United States. Throughout the discussions on Monday and Tuesday, there were extensive discussions about the ultimate objectives of the process, particularly regarding whether the SCCR has an obligation to draft text for a treaty or another kind of instrument.

"We don't have an obligation to draft a text in the form of treaty language," the EU urged, to which Pakistan replied, "We are under no obligation to draft text on treaty language at this stage, but we are under obligation to draft a text as we had all agreed."

As a compromise, several countries suggested that proposals be grouped into thematic clusters so that they could be more easily discussed.  On Tuesday, all proposals were compiled by the WIPO Secretariat in a table intended to facilitate discussions.

Some countries expressed concern that the table also included a treaty proposal by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), since the SCCR cannot consider proposals that are not endorsed by a member state.

As Bridges went to press, member states agreed to Chair Manuel Guerra Zamarro's suggestion to discuss the proposals under 10 thematic clusters and submit their written comments for compilation by the end of the week (with an extended three month deadline).

Reading disabled instrument gets attention, but no certainty

Similarly, member states seem to still be at odds on whether an instrument for the reading disabled should be a soft law, in the form of a joint recommendation, or a legally binding treaty - an issue that has featured in previous SCCR sessions (see Bridges Weekly, 29 June 2011).

In their opening statement, Brazil noted that "WIPO should contribute with nothing less than a treaty to help address the book famine that deprives persons with print disabilities of access to written works and to provide them with legal certainty to benefit from the limitations and exceptions we are designing for them."

However, many developed countries conspicuously left the word "treaty" out of their statements on the issue.

"It is undeniable that the most important humanitarian work that WIPO has embarked upon is finding a solution to the problems faced by print disabled persons in accessing educational works," the US delegate said.

The EU, on its part, said that it is "ready to achieve further convergence in our discussions on a possible international instrument on limitations for people with print disabilities."

The SCCR is meeting from 21 November - 2 December. A longer piece on the committee's work will be published in the 7 December issue of Bridges Weekly.

ICTSD reporting.

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