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.