Maher Calls (Again) for Copyright Exceptions for Archives at SCCR41

SAA representative to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) William Maher spoke again in favor of exceptions for archives at the virtual SCCR41 meeting on June 29:

“For ten years the Society of American Archivists has provided SCCR many examples of why archives need a clear legal path to make our rare and unique works available to the world by digital technologies. These non-commercial works should never have been swept into copyright's web. We've repeatedly told this body that limiting our ability to preserve archives invites disaster. Now, the pandemic has shown that the steam-age model of the Berne Convention no longer fits today's reality. It’s time to recognize that the world has changed, perhaps forever.

“Like the mythological Cassandra, we seem destined to predict the future only to be ignored. We’ve pointed out repeatedly the unfairness caused by travel costs that impede people from access to their own heritage documents. With the pandemic, no one has access, whether poor or rich.  And yet, archives, whose sole purpose is to preserve and facilitate use of rare works, are expected to fulfill their mission—a nearly impossible task in today's unbalanced copyright system.

“Likewise with climate change. The recent wildfire in Capetown that destroyed its university library should be a wake-up call to exclude preservation copying from an antiquated copyright framework. Surely, no one benefits if the one and only copy of something is burned to ashes because an archivist feared a lawsuit.

“The pandemic puts into stark relief the deprivation caused when people worldwide can’t access unique works in archives. Students can’t finish their degrees; citizens searching for their heritage can’t reach it; and even governments can’t access needed documents that may be held in foreign archives.

“The COVID and climate crises call for SCCR to create a pathway that empowers archives, libraries, and museums to make preservation copies and make them available across borders.  The global need for the unique knowledge in archives requires an international solution that only WIPO's leadership can provide.  If wildfires and pandemics don't prove the urgency for global action on preservation now, what will?”

For more resources on international copyright and other IP issues, see the SAA Intellectual Property Working Group’s microsite here.