We need access to information… about the laws that affect access to information!

Copyright Week Day 3

The way that copyright laws are written has a major impact on how people can access, apply, and create information. This access is not only a basic human right, but is essential to education, innovation and broader development. In the light of this, citizens and the libraries that serve them must have a say in how these laws are created.

But libraries concerned about users’ rights cannot only look at copyright laws. Trade deals increasingly influence laws by imposing one country’s copyright rules on another. Too often this leads to backwards steps like unnecessary term extension, or the legal protection of digital rights management tools which prevent the enjoyment of exceptions. Too often, also, trade deals are negotiated in secrecy.

Transparency in Trade Deals: the Brussels Declaration

On the 22 February 2016, IFLA therefore co-signed the Brussels declaration on trade and the internet, a document that was endorsed by several organisations and individual experts. Nearly two years later, IFLA continues to urge decision-makers around the world to guarantee the transparency of negotiations on trade agreements.

As shown in other decision-making processes, the voices of civil society organisation, the opinions of experts, add valuable knowledge that shouldn’t be ignored. IFLA played an important role in the discussions at WIPO – which is comparably a very good performer on transparency – around the Marrakesh Treaty. Without the input of organisations serving the interests of people with print disabilities, of libraries, and of publishers, the treaty wouldn’t have met the needs of its beneficiaries as it can do now.

Current Concerns

While Marrakesh represents a highlight, there are plenty of concerns. The European Union-Mercosur trade agreement is likely to carry extension of copyright terms or the adoption of rules that ban the circumvention of technological protection measures for Latin American countries[1]. Without the adequate input and even open discussions that bring together all stakeholders, the outcome risks serving the interests of very few, and not a global perspective.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in Asia, at least on the basis of years-old leaked negotiating drafts, could also be very negative for libraries and their users.

Today, celebrating the copyright week 2018 around the topic of “transparency”, we therefore wish to remind of what was agreed on, and still stands, in the signature of the Brussels Declaration:

  • respect, promote and fulfill articles 19 and 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in ensuring pro-active dissemination of information, including the regular release of draft proposals and consolidated texts, to enable stakeholders to be fully informed and to meaningfully participate in the negotiation process;
  • provide ample opportunities for meaningful involvement and collaboration with civil society representatives, including through on-the-record public notice and comment and public hearing processes—at least equivalent to that normally required for other public rulemaking processes —at relevant points during the generation of government positions;
  • apply freedom of information principles to the development and negotiation of government positions;
  • require balanced representation on any trade advisory bodies or processes, including implementation bodies, and require that they reflect all interests potentially affected and generally operate in open forums subject to public observance and access to documentation;
  • take affirmative measures to engage organizations and experts representing Internet users and consumers;
  • ensure that the resulting agreements support realization of the targets of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and that processes which evaluate their impact should contribute to Agenda 2030’s implementation review processes.

Through the work of its Advisory Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters, IFLA monitors ongoing discussions, and works to raise awareness among, and support, its members int heir own efforts to get copyright right for libraries.


[1] https://www.publicknowledge.org/news-blog/blogs/what-the-european-union-mercosur-trade-agreement-means-for-copyright