The African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) has released its model copyright law.
ARIPO it aims to support the work of intellectual property (IP) teams across Africa, through both country-specific capacity building, and regional-level reports and guidance.
Its 19 Member States come primarily from English-speaking Africa (with some exceptions), and will now doubtless be encouraged to refer to the Model Law in reflecting on their own reforms.
This means that the document has a potentially powerful impact. As such, it is worth being clear about its strengths, weaknesses, and silences, from a library point of view. Library associations and others advocating for better laws for libraries should be aware of where the Model Law will, or will not help.
This blog therefore explores the positives, the negatives, and the holes in the Model Law. All references to Articles are to the Model Law, unless stated otherwise).
Fair Dealing: in the first Article of the chapter on exceptions and limitations (Article 18), the Model Law suggests that uses which constitute fair dealing, for the purposes of scientific research, private use, criticism or review, or the reporting of current events should be permissible (Article 18(1)). It then offers a set of criteria for judging the fairness of this dealing – the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the protected work (how original is it?), the amount of the work used, and the effect of the use on the market (Article 18(3)).
This is a positive step, giving valuable flexibility to libraries and other users in making reasonable uses of works. However, it if course remains less open than fair use exceptions, which do not have closed list of accepted purposes. If the list was to be made open (for example by adding a ‘such as’ before the list of purposes), it would offer an even better model.
Inclusion of Unpublished Works: too often, copyright exceptions only apply to works which have been formally published. This can make the work of libraries and archives in dealing with unpublished works more complicated. The Model Law underlines that the fact of being unpublished does not prevent uses under fair dealing (Article 18(4)).
A Digitally-Reading Education Exception: the Model Law makes it clear that it is possible to make uses of copyrighted works for education purposes via electronic networks, and not just in analogue form (Article 21(1)(a) and 21(1)(b)).
Interestingly, the only area where the exception can be cancelled out by a licence is for in-person teaching (Article 21(1)(c)(iii)). This is clearly not ideal, given that the Article is, anyway, covered by the rule that uses under exceptions should not conflict with the normal market exploitation of a work.
A Technologically Neutral Definition of Copying: too often, national laws suggest that copies can only be made through a specific technology, such as photocopying. The Model Law has the merit of underlining that it is possible to make reproductions through any format (Article 2).
Protection of the Public Domain: the Model Law includes standard provisions on facts, data, news and political speeches not being protected by copyright, but is clear that this also applies to laws, court judgements and other administrative texts are also in the public (Article 6). Furthermore, there is an explicit definition of the public domain, which allows the possibility for authors to renounce their rights. This is positive, given the tendency in some countries to create unwaivable rights which undermine initiatives such as Creative Commons (Article 35).
No Term Extension: the Model Law does not take the opportunity too often used elsewhere (and in spite of the evidence) to go beyond protection lasting for the lifetime of the author plus fifty years. This is a useful model to use elsewhere.
Inclusion of Museums: the provisions on library copying also apply to archives and museums. This is a positive, given the challenges identified in WIPO work around museums facing different conditions and rules to other heritage institutions.
Overall, the Model Law provides a relatively good example for governments. However, there are some weaknesses which libraries should look to avoid replicating in their own national legislation. The below suggestions are in addition to the encouragement to adopt fair use above.
Vague Provisions on Circumventing Technological Protection Measures: in line with the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the Model Law underlines that ‘effective’ technological protection measures should themselves be protected by law. In other countries, there then follows a guarantee that users should be still be allowed to carry out permitted acts (i.e. under exceptions). However, the ARIPO Model Law only provides that governments may make exceptions. This is far too weak at a time that libraries are acquiring a growing share of collections in digital form (Article 40(4) ad 45(3)).
No Lending Exception: the Model Law includes public lending as one of the uses over which a rightholder should have exclusive rights. This is not something required by the Berne Convention itself (which only covers rental). This risks obliging libraries to make payments or seek authorisation for lending (over and above what they have paid to acquire books in the first place). This risks seriously damaging libraries’ ability to promote literacy and a love of books (Article 7(1)(k).
Restrictions on Preservation Copying: while the Model Law does (commendably) not limit the technology used to make copies, the fact that it only talks about ‘a’ copy poses to digitisation efforts (Article 23(3)). In line with recent EU reforms, it would be better to talk about taking copies in the quantity necessary to achieve the goal.
Furthermore, the Model Law also includes the obligation to see if a commercially available copy is available before taking such a copy. This risks introducing an unhelpful administrative burden, and may not be practicable. Given that it is usually cheaper to buy a copy than digitise and preserve, it would be better to leave the choice between copying and buying to libraries, rather than enforcing it through law (also Article 23(3)).
Imposing Commercial Availability Checks for Marrakesh Copying: The Marrakesh Treaty made an important breakthrough by removing copyright-related barriers to making and sharing accessible format copies of books for people with print disabilities. It did however leave the possibility for Member States to impose restrictions though, in the form of an optional remuneration requirement, or the obligation to check if an accessible format copy is not already available on the market before making or sharing one (Marrakesh Treaty, Articles 4(4) and 4(5)).
Libraries have argued strongly against making use of either of these possibilities, given the financial and administrative cost. However, the Model Law does suggest that there should be a check on commercial availability. Given the lack of information about which books are available where, and in what formats, such a requirement risks only leading to uncertainty.
Lack of Provisions on Collective Management: the Model Law is surprisingly thin on guidance about the regulation of collective management organisations (Article 57), while at the same time including provisions on extended collective licencing (Article 38). While it is clear that well-managed collecting societies can facilitate the work of libraries when carrying out uses that fall outside of exceptions, it is essential that these are run in a transparent and accountable way in order to be legitimate.
The Model Law says very little about the need for CMOs to be independent of government (in order to avoid conflicts of interest in the operation of copyright offices), to publish information about how much they are collecting and paying out, or to be representative of rightholders and rights when offering licences. At a time when multiple governments are needing to act to force better governance in this field, the vagueness of the Model Law is troubling.
Over-Application of the Three-Step Text: The Berne Convention only applies the three-step test (that a use needs to be a certain specific case, not conflict with the normal market exploitation of a work, and not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate rights of rightholders) only to exceptions to the reproduction right (Article 9(2), Berne Convention). However, the Model Law applies this to all exceptions, leading to potentially unhelpful debates about what is and is not possible (Article 18(2))
Attribution Obligations: on various occasions (Articles 18(1), 21(2), 22, 23(2), 24(1), 26(3)), the Model Law suggests that use can only be made under exceptions if there is attribution. However, this may not always be possible. Laws elsewhere recognise this possibility to make uses without attribution when this is not practicable. However, the Model Law does not, creating uncertainty for users who do not know the author of the work they are using.
Licence Override for Document Supply: as mentioned above, the exception allowing for educational uses of works in face-to-face teaching can be disapplied when a licence is available. This also applies to situations when libraries are making copies for the private use of users. Where a collective management organisation argues that it can offer licences, this could do a lot of damage to document supply activities (Article 23(2)(a)(iii).
Block on Parallel Importation: in the context of WIPO, libraries have argued that even when there is a domestic rightholder with the right to distribute a work nationally, it should be possible for libraries to make acquisitions across borders. This can be essential in order to meet requests for specific versions of works, or, for example, when the domestic rightholder is not active. The Model Law gives the rightholder the exclusive right to import works, without exceptions (Article 7(1)(j)).
Limits on Caricature, Pastiche and Parody: the Model Law does include welcome exceptions to economic rights (such as reproduction) for review and critic. However, the exception for caricature, pastiche and parody (Article 30) only applies to moral rights, and not to economic rights. As such, it may make it possible to restrict such activities on other grounds.
The Model Law, while comprehensive, does not cover a number of areas which, from a library point of view, would be desirable in any national copyright law.
Orphan and Out-of-Commerce Works: libraries hold many works which are no longer commercially available, but are still in copyright. As such, there are significant restrictions on how far they can give access. This is particularly difficult when a work is orphaned (i.e. it isn’t possible to identify or local rightholders). More and more countries are introducing provisions allowing libraries to permit use of such works, subject to various conditions. The Model Law does not even reference these issues.
Text and Data Mining: legal uncertainty about the possibility for libraries to allow for text and data mining of works in their collections has lead a number of countries to introduce explicit exceptions. There is nothing about this in the ARIPO Model Law, meaning that there is continued uncertainty.
Limited Exceptions for People with Disabilities: while the Model Law does copy provisions from the Marrakesh Treaty for people with print disabilities, it does not take the opportunity (foreseen in the Marrakesh Treaty) to apply similar rules for people with other disabilities (such as sub-titling for people experiencing deafness). Many countries do allow copying without restrictions on the type of disability – it is a shame that this possibility has not been included in the Model Law.
Contract Override: the Model Law is silent on the issue of contract override – i.e. the possibility for exceptions and limitations to be cancelled out by the terms of a licence. In a growing number of countries, there are conscious steps to prevent this from happening, and so defend user rights. National governments should introduce broad provisions ensuring the pre-emption of any contract terms which do undermine exceptions.
Cross-Border: the Model Law only refers to cross-border uses in the case of the provisions on sharing accessible format copies of works for people with print disabilities. There is nothing anywhere else which would allow for the cross-border application of exceptions.
This is perhaps an unfair criticism of course – it is only through international law making that there can be legal certainty for cross-border uses. ARIPO itself could act, but the most effective solution would need to come from WIPO itself. IFLA of course continues to engage to achieve this.
Overall, the ARIPO Model Law does cover a number of key points which help libraries do their job, in particular relatively flexible fair dealing provisions. However, there remain a number of flaws, both specifically (lending rights, limitations on preservation), and cross-cutting ones (contract override).
Governments should therefore not look to adopt the Model Law wholesale, but rather work with their library associations to ensure that they have rules that truly support the public interest missions of libraries. Overall, the Model Laws gets a 7 out of 10.