Sign On! Advocate for Removing International Copyright Barriers In Light of Climate Change

April 20, 2020—Dear Colleagues:

I have represented SAA for several years at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to advocate for creation of archives-friendly exceptions in copyright law. Although in the midst of this pandemic our attention is rightly on caring for our health and that of our families and friends, I write to encourage you to add (virtually) the name of your archives to this letter.

On the occasion of World Intellectual Property Day on April 26, this “open letter” calls for international action on copyright to allow archives globally to preserve their collections, especially in the face of climate change. Since 2011, SAA has worked with the International Council on Archives (ICA), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and, more recently, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to make the collective voice of archives and their users heard and to promote the best copyright laws to support the archival mission.

National copyright laws have a critical effect on archives’ ability to carry out our mission. U.S. archivists are fortunate that our domestic laws provide library and archives exceptions as well as fair use to give us some flexibility when making and distributing copies. Unfortunately too many countries do not have the laws or legal clarity necessary to make preservation copies, store digitized content in the cloud, or send and receive copies of archives works across national borders. Even where copyright exceptions do exist, they differ significantly enough from country to country that U.S. archivists face a confused situation when trying to work on projects or assist users in other countries. 

SAA and its coalition partners have worked tirelessly to counter resistance and to advance proposals that would bring consistency and equity to copyright by advocating for WIPO to create an international standard for balanced copyright exceptions. 

Unfortunately the urgency of clearing the copyright barriers for preservation and access is still insufficiently understood by some at WIPO.  Meanwhile, we must face climate changes that will not wait. Across the world, archives are threatened by rising sea levels, fires, and storms, putting irreplaceable collections at risk. We must act now to enable archives in every country to safeguard heritage at risk without having to worry about infringing copyright.

WIPO’s World Intellectual Property Day this year focuses on climate change and a green future. This is a unique opportunity for us to highlight the challenges to archives caused by climate change—and to proclaim the urgent need for an international response to protect world heritage.

We invite archival institutions and professional associations to sign on to this letter. With enough support, we hope to send a strong message on the immediacy of the situation and the need for action. Please consider adding your voice to those of more than 200 archives, libraries, and museums worldwide that have signed on to the “open letter.” Just e-mail me ( with your name, the name of your institution or association, and your location and I’ll make sure to include your sign-on. If you have any questions, you can e-mail me at the same address.

It has been an honor to represent you, SAA, and American archives at WIPO. Stay safe, take care of your family and friends, use this unique time to remember how fortunate we all are.

William J. Maher
Fellow, Society of American Archivists
University Archives, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

World IP Day_2020_WIPO Letter.pdf157.11 KB