SAA Advocates for Archives with WIPO/SCCR

In a noteworthy meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), SAA and allied advocates took significant steps that placed the needs of archives, libraries, and museums at the forefront of international conversations on intellectual property.

WIPO is an international agency that develops treaties and policies related to intellectual property for its 191 Member States to implement through national laws. Many cultural heritage professions affected by these treaties respect intellectual property but also have a mission to preserve and provide access to materials, which frequently requires copying of works. Since 2011, SAA has participated in the biannual meetings of SCCR, partnering with international library, archives, museum, and education organizations to advocate for uniform international copyright exceptions that will cover basic archival needs in the twenty-first century.

At its May 28–June 1 meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, SCCR adopted an action plan that commits to a series of activities that will keep the focus on the needs of archives, libraries, and museums and on the formulation of copyright exceptions for the networked world in which today’s archives operate. The promising elements of the plan, which builds on more than seven years of advocacy, resulted from an active and well-coordinated collaboration among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and friendly Member States.

Prior to the meeting, an initial draft of the plan had separated the needs of archives from those of library, education, and museum organizations. The draft was criticized by leaders of NGOs and a few key Member States, who recognized the importance of keeping archives exceptions as part of the overall proposal for copyright exceptions. SAA, represented at the meeting by Past President William Maher, contributed significantly to guiding the conversation away from problematic misconceptions about archives. Member States Indonesia and Iran were particularly effective in their commentary, and the US delegation offered useful language that ensured that prior SCCR work will be used as a foundation for the plan. Through these multiple efforts, the final action plan was revised to more accurately reflect the role and needs of archives.

“The international coalition has worked in a very unified way,” said Maher. “The effort to separate out archives was strongly opposed by several NGOs. It was very encouraging to see that collateral support.”

The adopted action plan will be presented for Member State consensus in the coming months. In the meantime, SAA‘s Intellectual Property Working Group, of which Maher is a member, will prepare examples of archives activities that demonstrate how essential copyright exceptions are to the mission of archives, both in the United States and beyond. 

“The meeting yielded the important lesson that archivists must be present in these international discussions to guide action,” says Maher. “If we are not, our issues will be overlooked or, worse yet, erased. Success is not just a one-time event but a cumulative and organic result.”

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