Monthly Archives: April 2019

Time to Stop Blocking Copyright Exceptions for People with Disabilities

The Marrakesh Treaty has proved to be the most successful piece of international law overseen by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) at the moment. Having entered into force faster than any other copyright treaty in the last forty years, it continues to see a regular flow of countries signing up to implement it.

It is true that the Marrakesh Treaty focuses on people with print disabilities – those who are affected by blindness or other visual impairments, or other disabilities that mean that cannot use a standard format book.

However, one of the key forces behind the Marrakesh Treaty is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whose Article 21 underlines the importance of access to information for all people with disabilities.

Crucially, the Convention does not discriminate according to types of disability. And while a country signing up to Marrakesh is only obliged to give new rights to people with print disabilities, there no legal reason not to extend this to people with other disabilities.

Indeed, thanks to the Convention there is a strong case for doing so, and taking unilateral action to facilitate the supply of materials in formats suited to people with any disability.

Many countries are already doing this. According to IFLA’s own monitoring work, at least 17 countries which have ratified or acceded to Marrrakesh have extended provisions to works adapted for people with other disabilities.

Furthermore, an exhaustive study of relevant provisions in existing laws, presented at the last meeting of WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, shows that over half of countries have introduced some form of copyright exception going beyond Marrakesh in terms of disabilities or works covered. 13 have taken the step of unilaterally allowing imports and or exports.

Article 12(2) of the Marrakesh Treaty itself clearly stresses that the Treaty is without prejudice to other limitations and exceptions to copyright for people with disabilities under national law. Article 12(1) allows Member States to pass more generous exceptions for beneficiaries as well.

This is not to say that a formal extension of the Marrakesh Treaty to people with other disabilities would not be helpful. It would offer a far clearer basis for libraries working to serve all relevant users to do so. Even if a country allows for the export of accessible works, such an export is only possible if importing such works is legal in the receiving country.

It is therefore highly disappointing to see claims in South Africa and Thailand that it is illegal or inadvisable to take steps to support access by people with disabilities other than print disabilities.

Such arguments not only have no basis, but also end up delaying access for people with print disabilities too. They discriminate between people with different types of disability, which makes little legal or moral sense.

It is to be hoped efforts to delay or block progress in this way come to an end, in order to give as many people with disabilities the access to information they need, as soon as possible.

“But I don’t Speak Legalese…”: What Other Perspectives Can Tell Us about Copyright Exceptions?

Copyright can easily seem scary. One reason for this is the fact that so much discussion on the subject is highly legalistic. There are intense debates about individual articles, sub-articles, or even sub-sub-articles, and an abundance of terminology and technicality that understandably puts a lot of people off.

This is neither desirable or inevitable though. Perhaps more than any other intellectual property right, copyright affects us all.

We can all be (and likely are all) copyright holders. But we are all also liable to be in situations where we , and are also more likely to be in situations where there is a risk of infringement. It is particularly important for libraries, with the balance of rights and exceptions defining what a library can do for its users.

So this blog goes beyond the purely legal perspective, and suggests some other ways in which libraries – and others – can think about copyright laws, from an economic, a consumer protection, a social justice and a psychological point of view.


Economics: the economic perspective focuses on resource allocation, and in particular how to do this in a way that leads to the greatest overall benefits, now and in the long-term. It recognises the fact that monopolies such as copyright can be necessary in order to recoup investments and incentivise further creation.

However, it also underlines that monopolies in general tend to lead to an under-supply of works and excessive pricing as producers seek to maximise profits. This leads to negative consequences (‘externalities’), such as people missing out on the possibility to use works for learning or research. The producer does not bear these costs of course, as these fall to the user.

Exceptions and limitations, in economic terms, therefore serve as a means of correcting these problems, and ensuring that the interests of consumers are taken into account, alongside those of producers.


Consumer Protection: taking the wellbeing of end-users as a starting point, people involved in consumer protection focus on how to ensure that the comparatively weak position of individuals vis-à-vis companies does not end up being used against them.

While classical economics assumes that people are perfectly rational and fully informed, this is far from often the case. They often have little time, and may not completely understand what they are being offered. Faced with a much larger company with access to lawyers, they may have little – or no – chance to negotiate.

Exceptions and limitations, especially when protected from override by contracts, serve as a tool for protecting the rights of consumers in using works to which they have legitimate access.


Social Justice: the idea behind social justice approaches is the idea that everyone should be able to enjoy a decent standard of living, and realise their potential. Social justice advocates worry that money – and other barriers – can prevent this, locking-in privilege and disadvantage.

Copyright of course applies regardless of how much money a creator has, although it is true that those with more resources are usually better able to exploit it (for example by hiring rights managers).

As for exceptions and limitations, where these exist, they also benefit everyone, but proportionately are more important for those who rely on libraries to access and make use of books and other materials. For example, whereas rich students may be able to buy all of the books they need, a poorer one needs the library in order to complete their studies.


Psychological: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, laws are most effective (and most respected) when they are understood and supported by people. This also has advantages in terms of reducing enforcement costs.

At least in Western cultures, the broad idea of copyright is understood, as is the importance of supporting the work of creators. However, people also expect that once they have paid money for a book or other work, they should be able to choose what they do with it, at least within their private space.

The same goes for librarians or teachers, for example, who are simply pursuing their missions to support education, research or the preservation of the past. Copyright exceptions are what allow the law to make sense for them.


It is clear that there are a number of ways of looking at copyright, with different disciplines offering different angles. The ones above underline the importance of the sort of non-commercial exceptions that libraries rely on. It’s clear that copyright itself is a question of law, its design cannot only be left to the lawyers.

Intellectual Property Is Important for…

We often forget that intellectual property rights – such as copyright, patents or trademarks – are not ends in themselves, but instruments at the service of development, creativity, innovation and welfare. Today, for World Intellectual Property Day 2019, we want to show this side of intellectual property, and how it has an impact on libraries and similar institutions.

Like all tools, they can be used well, or badly, and in some circumstances may even simply not be relevant. Copyright can contribute to these objectives, as long as the right legislation is in place.

However, it is not the case that more rights mean better outcomes. Scholars have underlined on several occasions how more flexibility contributes to development, rather than stronger protection. Exceptions and limitations are therefore key for many public interest activities. Copyright is not complete and does not fulfill its purpose without them.

In particular, when copyright laws are only written with the industry or and legal practitioners, there is a tendency to forget its strong impact on other sorts of institutions or activities. Unbalanced, unrealistic or unreasonably complicated laws can be a real problem for cultural heritage institutions for instance, whose staff have the important duty of understanding and interpreting copyright, and guiding users, students, authors and researchers through what they can and cannot do.

Copyright needs to be mindful of its impact beyond the most obvious commercial activities. Here are a few examples of where intellectual property has an impact, and so where relevant stakeholders’ views should be taken into account. Libraries, of course, have a key interest in all of these:

Copyright is important for cultural heritage

 Cultural heritage institutions hold collections of items protected by copyright law. Even if some are not necessarily protected, it is sometimes difficult to confirm this (when did the author die? Should the work be considered as being subject to copyright?).

Any activity involving such materials is then affected by copyright law, from public lending (in some countries), to preservation, to digitising and making available orphan works. Unless copyright adapts to support these activities, it will fail to promote this public policy goal.

Copyright is important for research

 Here again, decisions taken around copyright have a major impact. Most research material, for example articles, monographs or theses, have copyright protection. Apart from traditional issues such as plagiarism, or quotation (which should be protected by an exception under international law), new challenges arise as technology evolves.

Text and data mining (TDM), a form of processing information by machine, often involves copying, and so raises questions of whether the content processed is protected by copyright. If it is, then either permission is needed for every single work protected (impossible to manage), or a solution such as an exception is needed.

Exceptions for TDM, as well as other research copying, can make a real contribution to strengthening innovation and scholarship, while protecting the market for original works.

 Copyright is important for education

 Education is all about exchanging and sharing information. Information is present in the classroom, in forms of textbooks or online material displayed, at home with homework, or during examinations. Copyright has a strong influence on how education is provided, as it is applicable to most materials.

Traditionally produced textbooks, as well as digital course ware, play a helpful role, alongside open educational resources and materials produced specifically by teachers for their classes. Such materials should benefit from copyright protection, in order to reward the work of authors.

However, such rules should not stand in the way of educational uses which do not harm markets, or indeed make it unduly hard to create and share open educational resources. As set out in the provisional report by Professor Raquel Xalabarder at the most recent meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, the primary goal must be to make it easy for teachers to teach.

Copyright should be seen as a tool, amongst others, for achieving broader ends, including creativity, innovation, and the public interest activities such as the ones described in this above.



The 10-Minute Library Advocate #15: Develop Your Elevator Pitch

The 10-Minute Library Advocate Number 15: Develop your elevator pitch

Sometimes, you need to be convincing, quickly.

While a lot of advocacy is about patient effort over time, you might have an opportunity to spend a minute with a key decision maker – a mayor, a minister, a funder.

They’re likely to be busy, with many other things on their mind.

But if you can get them on your side, you can make major progress.

These moments can happen at any moment – at a reception, a public event, in a lift (or elevator!). You need to be ready!

So for the 15th 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, prepare your ‘elevator pitch’.

This is the term for a very short speech you give which convinces someone else of your point of view – and in this case, of the importance of libraries.

Something you can deliver in an elevator between floors!

You need to focus your arguments, get rid of unnecessary information, and ensure you say what needs to be said, in the simplest, most convincing way possible.

Try writing out your speech, and then editing it, word by word, until it is as short as it can be.

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

By All, For All: A World Book Day for the World

Books by all, for all: Libraries celebrate World Book Day 2019

Books have long played – and continue to play – a key role in recording the past, sharing knowledge, and creating inspiration. World Book Day offers an opportunity to celebrate this contribution to knowledge and culture.

In 2019, there is a particular focus on indigenous languages, given the International Year. This is a reminder of the importance of thinking about how books as a means of preserving and sharing all cultures.

For libraries, this diversity of production is key. As institutions with a mission to meet the needs of all members of their communities, there is a strong interest in supporting and promoting local production, in all languages spoken by users.

To celebrate World Book Day 2019, therefore, this blog explores the reasons why it is so important to make this a day for all readers and writers in all cultures.


Books By All

Traditionally, the cost of printing presses and the need to run distribution networks have meant that publishing has been an expensive business. Publishers have given different voices access to these opportunities, bringing their voices to the world.

However, for those who do not manage to find the support of a publisher, the opportunities have been much narrower. Writers who are only likely to reach a small audience – because of the subject, or the language – of their works have had fewer possibilities.

This is of course changing, with technology offering new possibilities to self-publish, or to set up smaller independent operations which help new and diverse voices reach public attention.

These new options complement the existing landscape, allowing for a more diverse range of books to reach the market.

Clearly new writers need support, especially when they don’t benefit from the sort of support that a publisher will often offer.

While libraries clearly can’t provide an advance, they do offer a number of other key services – classes in creative writing, free research possibilities, and in some cases a showcase for local talent.

We will be exploring some of these means of supporting new authors in a session at WLIC this year.


Books For All

It does not make sense to talk about World Book Day without a focus on access. Indeed, to look only at the production of books would run counter to the universal mission of UNESCO, the organisation that set it up in 1995.

Copyright has made it possible for the (intangible) content of books to be treated in much the same way as a physical (tangible) object, and allowed for the creation of the type of market for books that we see today.

However, there is the risk of failure. Traditionally, market failures happen when the full benefits (or costs) of an action are not taken into account by the actor.

This can be the case with books, for example where someone may not have the money to buy a book, but there are clear benefits to society as a whole from them having access (to learn, to research, to discover new opportunities).

Libraries already have a key role in overcoming such failures by providing access to knowledge and culture.

Complementing markets – which continue to sell copies of books to those who can afford them, and want to enjoy them forever – they ensure that everyone has the chance to gain from what books have to offer.

This is as important in cities in major developed countries as in rural communities speaking indigenous languages.


With World Book Day 2019 focusing on the importance of indigenous languages, and 2019 being the year that SDG 10 (Reducing Inequalities) is in focus at the United Nations, it is a great opportunity to remember that this can only be a truly global event if it looks at books by all, for all.

Libraries are key to making this a reality.

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #14: Find a Journalist Who Can Write about Libraries

The 10-Minute Library Advocate Number 14: Find a Journalist  Who Can Write about Libraries

When you’re advocating, you don’t need to do it alone.

Sometimes, it’s even more powerful when you have someone else speaking for you.

And there are few more powerful voices than those in the media.

When a journalist speaks about libraries – and the great work they are doing – they can reach thousands, even millions of people.

So for our fourteenth 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, find a journalist who can write about libraries.

They can work for a local newspaper or news-site, in print, on radio or on TV – whatever is most appropriate in your area or country!

You could do a search using a news aggregator like GoogleNews or similar to find out who may already be writing about libraries. They’ll often be keen to receive more good ideas for stories!

Let us know about your successes!

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

World Heritage Day 2019

World Heritage Day encourages us to celebrate the world’s cultures and to raise awareness of cultural heritage – and the importance of preserving it.

In the light of the tragic Notre Dame fire earlier this is week, it is clear that our cultural heritage is not only great, it is also fragile! Our heritage is our history, it unites us, and it identifies us. Keeping it safe should be a goal of us all.

But let us not forget that heritage is more than buildings.

What is Cultural Heritage?

It is easy to think that cultural heritage is something from the past, but it evolves with our engagement with it. It comes in many shapes and forms, and can be enjoyed in many ways.

Every day, people across the globe celebrate their cultural heritage by simply going to the cinema, paying their respects at a religious site, or by appreciating art and literature. It’s not just on this one day a year that we benefit from the joint history and heritage of humanity!

Documentary heritage is a fundamental inheritance of our culture and historical memory, and its preservation is a key task for libraries all over the world.

This is a question that is not standing still. Debates about the preservation of documentary heritage have found a new focus in digital heritage, understood as collections that are the result of the knowledge or expression of human beings that often has no physical support, but rather a digital one.

Recognising the importance of this component of our heritage, UNESCO passed a recommendation in 2015 which called on Member States to do more to recognise the importance of cultural heritage, to and to pass the laws and support the institutions that make its survival possible. You can read more about the recommendation in our briefing.

How to celebrate World Heritage Day

Of course there is no point safeguarding heritage it if cannot be celebrated, and there are many ways to do this. One way you can mark World Heritage Day is to search for locations near you and pay them a visit! Many key heritage sites are registered at the UNESCO World Heritage List. Others can be found by a simple search online, or by asking your local tourist office!

If you prefer celebrating World Heritage Day from the comfort of your home, you can visit one of the many digital libraries. Be inspired by the many manuscripts from antique to the early print era at the Europeana Collections or read about endangered cultural heritage from around the world registered in the Memory of the World Register.

Whether you chose to celebrate off- or online, you can also consider how we can protect our heritage! Spread awareness about our heritage and its importance – you can start by sharing this story on your social media. Support local partners and volunteer either by signing up for a beach clean up or by helping out in your local library when needed. Encourage international cooperation in preserving our world’s cultural heritage.

Our cultural heritage – tangible, intangible and digital – represents our past and our future. We can make a difference today.