Trends in copyright for libraries: what’s coming up this year? (Part 2)

Graphic for Day 5 of Copyright Week 2019

We started Copyright Week 2019 with a blog post on Monday about specific copyright reforms that are ongoing and upcoming in 2019. These copyright reforms show some common trends, so today we are closing the week by looking into that.

In the framework of Copyright Week 2019, we also explored some specific topics more in depth: on Tuesday, Libraries, eBook ownership and Lending; on Wednesday, the Public Domain, Privatised Knowledge, and Libraries; and on Thursday, Safe Harbours and Libraries. You can also have a look at what other organisations have been writing about during copyright week.

There are many interesting matters worth talking about, but since the list would be too long, we have picked six highlights to get you ready for a 2019 full of copyright for libraries. Feel free to share your thoughts on top trends for this year using the comments box.

  1. The Marrakesh Treaty in practice

After its adoption in 2013, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled has been ratified or acceded to in 48 countries. Many countries – but far from all – have also made changes to their national laws to effectively implement Marrakesh Treaty provisions. It will be important for libraries to maintain the momentum in national reform.

With that in place, we are hopeful that 2019 will be the year in which we will start to see the dream of the Marrakesh Treaty realised: more access to knowledge for people with print disabilities, notably through cross-border exchanges of works in an accessible format.

To help with questions that will arise around the practicalities of the Treaty, IFLA has created the Getting Started Guide. It seeks to assist librarians in countries where Marrakesh provisions are in place on key questions around the production and exchange of accessible format copies. The guide is meant to be adapted to national legislation, which colleagues from Spain and Croatia have kindly already done. You can access the existing versions and translations on the IFLA website, and of course don’t hesitate to offer your own!

IFLA is also keeping an up-to-date overview of which countries are moving towards effective implementation of the Marrakesh provisions in their national law, including through allowing cross-border exchange of accessible format copies.

  1. The value gap

The European draft copyright directive’s Article 13 has brought copyright concerns closer to the end user: some have suggested that it will change the internet as we know it. Article 13 would make platforms directly liable for infringing content uploaded by users unless they implement prior filtering obligations to prevent such content getting online (even terrorist legislation gives platforms an hour to spot illicit content). It also aims to force the signature of blanket licence agreements with rightholders for online use of their content.

Although IFLA’s main focus is to ensure that library repositories and other not-for-profit platforms are not negatively affected, IFLA does not remain silent vis-à-vis the threat that it represents to freedom of expression and freedom of access to information.

With this copyright reform still to be concluded, rightsholders elsewhere are pushing for similar policies. However, is there enough evidence of such a gap? Is a solution based in copyright the best option? Are there not risks of weakening safe harbour provisions? If it mainly targets YouTube, will it be fit for purpose on other platforms? Is it not better to address competition issues with competition policy?

With several copyright reforms coming up in 2019, it is worth questioning the adequacy of such a system, in case decision-makers consider it elsewhere.

  1. 2019: Year of indigenous languages

The United Nations declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages. It is a unique opportunity to bring interested parties together and raise awareness of the cultural and historical value of indigenous languages, as a key part of indigenous knowledge.

Back in 2014, IFLA already underlined the “intrinsic value and importance of indigenous traditional knowledge and local community knowledge, and the need to consider it holistically in spite of contested conceptual definitions and uses” in its statement.

Libraries’ involvement is key through preservation and access to such information. That is why IFLA will be celebrating the Year of Indigenous Languages through monthly blog posts exploring the topic from several perspectives. Stay tuned for more on this blog!

In the meantime, the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore is working towards text-based discussions for international instruments both on the topic of traditional knowledge and cultural expression.

We look forward to further engaging on the matter throughout 2019.

  1. Open Access and Open Science

Libraries subscribe to more and more digital content, while at the same time, the cost of subscriptions seems to be going up in many countries around the world. Library budgets are therefore tightened, and consequently reduce the freedom that librarians have in the choice of collections.

In 2018, we saw universities and consortia in many countries cancel big subscription deals with publishers. An international group of research funders released Plan S, which “requires that, from 2020, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms”.

Many more initiatives around the world are moving towards the direction of full open access. We are hopeful that we will see much more of these initiatives throughout 2019. A key priority will be to make the library voice – and interest – heard in the discussions.

  1. Librarians as advocates

Access to information is fundamental, and more, or a stricter copyright, risks harming it. Librarians need to raise their voice and have an active role in copyright discussions.

It might seem obvious that in any copyright reform, decision-makers should be careful not to harm, and should even enhance, access to information, which is in the interest of all. However, there is a lobby arguing to the contrary (as recent research from Corporate Observatory Europe has shown) with a strong influence in copyright policies. As a negative unintended consequence, the possibilities for libraries to preserve and give access to knowledge in the digital age, and the interests of users, may be hampered.

In many countries, librarians are already involved in working groups with the ministries or government offices responsible of copyright. In others, they are coming together through library associations and campaigns to have a say in copyright changes.

We should reach a situation in which librarians are consulted by default when copyright is to be amended, and in which librarians are confident to speak in this regard.

The interests we defend are legitimate, and we should not wait for someone else to defend them. If we do not say it, no one will.

  1. Getting the facts in order

Very linked to the previous points is the fact that in copyright reforms, we hear all kinds of arguments to defend positions that will restrict or harm the interests of libraries and their users. Librarians need to have the facts and the arguments at their fingertips.

In the South African copyright reform, which is close to an end, librarians and other user rights defenders have had to make an important effort to fight misleading arguments against fair use. In the Canadian copyright reform’s recent consultation, there has also been a need to argue why fair dealing is not causing a loss of revenue to the publishing industry.

Some other examples of recurrent arguments are: Licensing (and collective licensing) offers a solution to all problems; library lending has a negative effect on book sales; flexible copyright is harmful to authors, and more protection is the answer; and exceptions and limitations to copyright lead to piracy and deprive creators from adequate remuneration. We need to be able to respond.


We hope the above ideas are helpful guides – do share your own below, we look forward to reading them!