Discussions by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright & Related Rights (SCCR) collapsed May 3, 2014, after the European Union (EU) moved to block future discussion of exceptions to copyright laws that would aid libraries and archives in serving the public.
In what some are labeling an “act of obstructionism” at the SCCR’s 27th session, held April 28‒May 2 in Geneva, the EU refused to agree that the committee would continue to discuss any “text-based” document addressing the many library and archives issues that had been under negotiation for the past three years.
The Society of American Archivists (SAA)—the sole U.S. representative from the archives and libraries sector—was joined at the SCCR meeting by more than a dozen library and archives delegations from Europe, Latin America, Africa, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The goal of the meeting was to formulate language for international library and archives exceptions to copyright law. The SCCR was also considering provisions to create new exclusive rights for broadcast and cable/satellite transmissions.
“Instead, the EU delegation prevented any kind of library and archives exceptions, even to the point of putting at risk the nearly completed broadcast treaty work,” according to William Maher, director of the University of Illinois Archives and SAA’s representative at SCCR.
“The library and archives NGOs have known for a while that the EU was resistant to any new treaty on our behalf,” says Maher. “They've now made it very clear that they have not been operating in good faith and will block any attempts at further substantive discussions of our issues.”
At stake is the future for an international treaty that would address such archival matters as responding to cross-border requests, preserving and making available orphan works, and preservation in the digital world.
“People's need for knowledge and information is universal,” states Maher. “Having an international instrument that provides a uniform floor is essential if we are to have worldwide equity of access and preservation.”
The EU delegation's intransigence is difficult to understand, Maher says, considering that the EU recently recognized the ineffectiveness of its 2006 soft law solutions by adopting the Orphan Works Directive (2012/28/EU). This new directive introduced a mandatory pan-European copyright exception to enable cross-border online access to orphan works throughout the EU. "It makes one wonder how they could hold such conflicting positions," Maher adds.
The fact that talks collapsed, however, should not be taken as a total failure for the library and archives sector, according to Maher.
“SAA had the extraordinary good fortune of being given four opportunities to present statements regarding the needs of libraries and archives. In particular, our specific examples regarding cross-border problems and orphan works seemed to make an impact on several important national delegations at the meeting. Especially for archives, which are not understood by the general public, we were able to make tangible not just what archives are about, but especially the enormity of the issues we face in fulfilling our cultural and educational mission,” adds Maher. (Click here to read SAA's statements to the SCCR.)
Backed by these statements at the recent meeting, the national delegations from Brazil, Ecuador, India, Iran, and Kenya took a leading role in calling for the development of a binding treaty, to the point of refusing to accept the EU's attempt to gut any workable treaty language.
“I believe that the collective testimony from all the library and archives NGOs may have built confidence to stand up to the EU and refuse a compromise that would have destroyed the possibility for any further substantive work,” explains Maher.
The future of further treaty work for library and archives exceptions remains unsettled. Without the creation of a consensus document, it is too early to say what might transpire at the next SCCR meeting, which is scheduled for June 28‒July 4.
As Maher notes, “SAA should be proud that it was able to stand as witness, and to help educate and advance the cause of archives—not just for us, but more importantly, to benefit the public we serve.”
“SAA is proud—proud of Bill Maher for the invaluable service he is providing the archives profession at a global level,” says SAA President Danna C. Bell. And his efforts are not going unnoticed. A recent blog post on the need for an international agreement on orphan works by the Washington, DC-based Knowledge Ecology International characterizes Maher as "a passionate representative of the world of Archives" who provided "two clear and convincing examples of the need to find an international solution on orphan works for Libraries and Archives."
Stay tuned for further developments.