Tag Archives: World Intellectual Property Organisation

The Wrong Target: Resistance to Exceptions to Copyright for Libraries and a Sustainable Book Chain

The Wrong Target? Why opposition to copyright reform won’t guarantee the future of the book chain

Copyright reforms introducing or updating exceptions and limitations to copyright can easily become a lightning rod.

Recent examples have regularly seen apocalyptic claims about the collapse of the book chain – understood as all those involved in writing, editing, publishing, distributing and reading books – and the demise of creativity in general.

In a sector marked by concern about falling author incomes (despite overall growth in the sector), fears for the future sustainability of the publishing industry, and worry about the role of major internet platforms, it is understandable that there is a desire to take action.

It is true that policy reforms seem to allow this, given the possibility to engage politicians, make statements and get involved in the media debate. Many have done this, claiming that by preventing libraries from enjoying new rights, it is possible to secure the future.

However, just because it is possible to take a position , it does not mean that it is sensible or correct to do so.

This blog explains how in the short term, modern copyright exceptions and limitations for libraries do not pose a threat to the future of the book chain. Instead, it argues, a healthy library sector, enabled by such exceptions and limitations, is a key guarantor of future success and viability.


A Complex Challenge Deserves Better Than a Simplistic Response

A number of questions are at play in determining the health of the book chain.

Effective cultural policies supporting new and diverse voices, competition policies to prevent individual actors (such as Internet platforms) taking too powerful a position, and regulation of contracts between authors and publishers are all important. Other regulations, such around book pricing or taxation, as well as copyright enforcement, can also play a role.

There are also factors beyond policy – a shift to digital and the ability (or inability) of the sector to keep up, growing competition for readers’ attention, and changing trends in education and research.

In effect, the challenges and questions facing the book chain are multiple, as are the tools for responding to them. A short-sighted focus only on stopping copyright reforms is highly limiting, and will do nothing to increase authors’ shares of revenue from their works, provide targeted support for new voices, or address the dominance of digital platforms.

This has not stopped some from trying to argue that modern copyright rules will mean disaster. However, each time there has been a truly comprehensive effort to look at the evidence recently, this argument has been rejected.

In Canada, for example, where the Parliament’s Industry, Science and Technology Committee held a thorough review of the country’s 2012 copyright reform. However, despite intense calls for one particular reform (the extension of educational fair dealing, confirming decisions already made by the courts) to be repealed, it rejected the claims made:

“Despite the volume and diversity of evidence submitted throughout the review, the Committee observed a problematic lack of authoritative and impartial data and analysis on major issues. Multiple witnesses either overestimated how strongly the data they presented supported their arguments or failed to disclose its limitations”.

Similarly in Australia, the Productivity Commission, charged with making an independent assessment of the impact of different policy actions, found very little evidence to back up claims that fair use would cause any unjustifiable harm to the publishing industry.

As Deputy Commissioner Karen Chester noted in a speech, the claims made against reforms which would benefit libraries and users simply have evidence behind them. Moreover:

“It was claimed that fair use destroys publishing industries and has done so in Canada, and particularly their educational resource sector. That claim did not stand up to even modest scrutiny: the experience in Canada has been grossly misrepresented and ignores specific market factors there”. 

Similarly, impact assessments in the European Union and Singapore have also underlined that well-designed copyright exceptions are very much a positive sum game, with no harm to publishers or authors, and significant gains to researchers, educators and readers.


Sacrificing the Long-Term?

Of course in the long-run, it is not a case of there being two ‘sides’ to the debate – rightholders and readers. Today’s readers may well be tomorrow’s creators, innovators and researchers.

This is where libraries come in. Through promoting literacy and a love of reading, supporting responsive and innovative teaching, and helping students and researchers, they have a key role in ensuring a ‘pipeline’ of new talent.

Moreover, through giving access to heritage and existing ideas, they are spaces where new ideas can come to life.

They also have a key role in ensuring the legitimacy of the book chain, by ensuring that it does not simply become the preserve of the wealthier. The goal of the great library builders of the 19th Century to democratise knowledge is still relevant today.

Yet to continue to play this role, libraries need to benefit from a basic set of exceptions and limitations that work in the digital age. Preservation, lending and supporting education and research are core functions around which there should be little disagreement.

There is a growing body of evidence that underlines the costs to library users of rules that do not allow libraries to fulfil their missions. This contrasts – as set out above – with the lack of evidence that library exceptions and limitations actually do any short-term harm to the book sector.


In the light of this, it is perhaps time to look more broadly at the actions that can be taken to guarantee the future of the book chain. This may be hard – the questions are difficult ones, and the effort required will be higher. It also involves stepping away from old and comfortable assumptions.

Nonetheless, this would certainly be a more constructive approach than to spend time and energy opposing reforms that would in the short term be neutral, and in the long term be positive, for all involved.

Getting the Right Measures: How Copyright Exceptions and Limitations are an Essential Ingredient for Successful Library Systems

In any recipe, you cannot just substitute one ingredient with more of another.

If you try to make a cake only with flour and milk, you get wallpaper paste. One made only of egg is a soufflé.

The same goes libraries and their work to support education, innovation and culture. A variety of ingredients is necessary, in the right proportions.

What ingredients are necessary for a flourishing library system?

Clearly nothing happens without investment. Libraries provide a public service, and have to be funded as such, with money for the space, resources and services their users need. It is increasingly clear that an open, high-quality internet connection is also essential.

They can also need other laws – for example those that give them a formal status, that allow them to acquire and keep books, or those that give them the responsibility to serve particular user groups, such as children or people with disabilities.

And of course they also benefit from a strong local publishing industry. In many countries, this is supported through grants to local authors and publishers, tax breaks, or subsidies for key infrastructure.

Without these, they cannot fulfil their missions.

Copyright provisions form part of this – both in terms of rights and exceptions.

Today’s creative economy is largely structured around copyright, which allows works – books, songs, images – to be treated like investment goods. This enables a certain business model which funnels resources from buyers to creators, allowing them to create their next work.

While movements such as Open Access rely less on copyright (the user does not need to pay for the right to read or use a work), it is still a fact of life, and libraries spend around $30bn a year on copyrighted works.

Without a major upheaval, copyright (or at least the purchase of rights from authors or other rightholders) seems likely to remain at the heart of the creative economy, and so the main way by which libraries can provide access to works for their users.

Exceptions and limitations are also necessary, firstly in order to cover uses which the market would not allow. For example, there is little if any commercial value in taking copies for preservation purposes.

The same goes for copying individual pages or chapters, or for using works for purposes which fall outside of normal market uses – for example showing a newspaper article in a media-literacy course, or taking copies for insurance purposes. This is particularly true for works which are simply not on sale at all, but still covered by copyright.

Secondly, they also help correct the excesses that monopoly powers can bring. The reason why monopolies in other areas are regulated is because otherwise they tend to lead to under-supply and over-pricing.

Libraries, thanks to exceptions and limitations, are able to ensure that everyone – and not just those with enough money to buy works themselves – are able to enjoy access to culture, innovation and education.

Of course these uses, under exceptions and limitations, cannot replace markets. Indeed, this would not even be possible under international law. At the same time, neither rights, nor spending, nor other laws can remove the need for exceptions and limitations themselves.

In the case of ongoing discussions about how to build stronger library systems around the world, both at the global and national levels, this remains a key point to remember. To succeed, we need a mixture of all approaches.


Read more about IFLA’s work at the World Intellectual Property Organisation to improve limitations and exceptions for libraries worldwide. Follow the livestream on the WIPO website.

Reflexiones tras el webinar con FEBAB: la IFLA ante la OMPI y perspectivas ante la Unión Europea

[Versión en inglés disponible aquí]

Hace unos días participé en un webinar organizado por comisión brasilera de derechos de autor y acceso abierto FEBAB, la Federação Brasileira de Associações de Bibliotecários. Es el primero de cuatro webinars, una serie que busca acercar al sector bibliotecario al ámbito del derecho de autor en Brasil y a nivel internacional. Fue moderado por Sueli Mara Ferreira, de la Universidad de Sao Paulo, y contó con la colaboración de Anderson de Santana, también de la Universidad de Sao Paulo, y de Walter Couto, doctorando en ciencias de la información en la misma institución.

Centré la presentación alrededor de la actividad de la IFLA ante la Organización Mundial de la Propiedad Intelectual (OMPI) y de los cambios en materia de derechos de autor que están teniendo lugar en la Unión Europea. La OMPI es una agencia especializada de las naciones unidas a cargo de patentes, marcas, derechos de aturo y otros temas relacionados. La IFLA está representada desde hace años en su comité de derechos de autor, el SCCR (siglas dadas por su nombre en inglés, el Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights), como organización no gubernamental. En este foro, la IFLA defiende la necesidad de avanzar hacia un instrumento internacional que garantice excepciones y limitaciones al derecho de autor adecuadas par el funcionamiento de bibliotecas, archivos y museos.

No estoy segura de si el webinar fue interesante para los participantes (¡aunque espero que sí!) pero ciertamente lo fue para mí. Hubo diversas preguntas muy interesantes que invitan a la reflexión. Las preguntas muestran la clara preocupación del sector bibliotecario por la falta de adaptación del derecho de autor al trabajo de las bibliotecas. No se trata de pequeñeces, y ya ni siquiera de adaptar la ley al mundo digital. Se trata de aspectos fundamentales como la preservación o el préstamo público. Mientras que determinados países cuentan con excepciones y limitaciones al derecho de autor que autorizan expresamente este tipo de usos de interés público, la ley de derecho de autor en Brasil no cuenta con ninguna excepción ni limitación al derecho de autor.

Esto deja a los bibliotecarios en un estado de indefensión y preocupación constante sobre los usos que se hace de las obras en bibliotecas. Aún y los muchos esfuerzos que hacen los bibliotecarios para explicar al usuario final cómo utilizar las obras, es incontrolable. Sin ninguna garantía, las bibliotecas temen ser responsables de malos usos por falta de información, especialmente dado que se puede llegar a discutir que todo uso lo puede ser, incluso siendo de interés público, sin una ley de propiedad intelectual adaptada que lo ampare.

Los avances ante la organización mundial de la propiedad intelectual dan cierta esperanza al sector bibliotecario en los países en los que los cambios no están teniendo lugar por falta de iniciativa a nivel nacional. El tratado de Marrakech y su rapidez en ser ratificado o adherido por los estados miembros de las naciones unidas es un muy buen ejemplo del efecto que tienen este tipo de instrumentos. Estos estados han debido hacer cambios a su legislación nacional que de no ser por el tratado probablemente no habrían tenido lugar. El mismo Director General de la OMPI Francis Gurry señaló en la última asamblea general de la OMPI que el tratado de Marrakech se estaba moviendo a una rapidez que excedía la de cualquier otro tratado de la organización.

A continuación intento responder a dos preguntas, en mi opinión muy relevantes, que planteó Walter Eller do Couto durante el webinar:

1. El Convenio de Berna establece el principio del “trato nacional”, según el cual los países deben aplicar su legislación a los extranjeros. Esto puede dificultar el trabajo del bibliotecario, que necesita conocer el derecho de autor de varios países. ¿Es posible vislumbrar algo parecido al Tratado de Marrakech en relación a las otras limitaciones excepciones para facilitar este tipo de actividades transfronterizas?

La IFLA ha venido insistiendo en la necesidad de un tal tratado precisamente para hacer frente a la difícil aplicación del derecho de autor de forma transfronteriza si no existen unos estándares mínimos a través de fronteras (perdiéndose muchas posibilidades de colaboración e intercambio cultural), y a la vez para forzar el cambio legislativo en países que de forma individual no están tomando la iniciativa, aunque sea posible bajo el Convenio de Berna.

Sin embargo, en el seno de la OMPI, determinados países se oponen (principalmente la Unión Europea, lo cual es sorprendente dado que ya cuentan con excepciones y limitaciones al derecho de autor para instituciones del patrimonio cultural e incluso las están adaptando al mundo digital). Alegan que los países ya tienen libertad para legislar, y no están a favor de un instrumento internacional con efecto vinculante.

El comité de derechos de autor de la OMPI ha definido un plan de acción, que tras varias reuniones regionales y un ejercicio de intercambio de ideas, finaliza con una conferencia internacional. Ésta tiene como objetivo “tomar en consideración los frenos y contrapesos de las distintas soluciones internacionales destinadas a hacer frente a los desafíos reconocidos, por ejemplo, arreglos contractuales, recomendaciones conjuntas, tratados u otras formas, según corresponda”.

2. Hablando de asumir riesgos, la historia del derecho de autor tiene casos de bibliotecas que desafían la legislación, asumiendo riesgos para poder hacer su trabajo. Un ejemplo es el nacimiento de la Sección 108 en la legislación estadounidense, que surgió tras una disputa judicial entre una editorial y una biblioteca. ¿Cómo es el posicionamiento de la IFLA en relación a conductas de bibliotecas que desean asumir riesgos incluso sin salvaguardias legales?

La IFLA no tiene posición oficial al respecto, y es claramente una situación muy delicada. Sin embargo, recientemente la IFLA adoptó una posición sobre alfabetización y educación en materia de derecho de autor. Esta declaración insiste en la necesidad para el sector bibliotecario de tener un mínimo de conocimientos sobre el derecho de autor y hace una serie de recomendaciones. No resuelve el tema que plantea la pregunta, pero reconoce que la falta de conocimientos en este ámbito, y sobre todo la falta de legislación adaptada, puede ser muy problemático. Por otro lado, anima a más conocimiento como un primer paso para que el sector entienda de forma global la necesidad de cambio legislativo, y lo impulse.

Los bibliotecarios hacen esfuerzos para asegurar el cumplimiento de la ley, pero en algunas ocasiones, ésta está tan lejos de la misión principal de las bibliotecas de preservar y facilitar acceso al conocimiento, que se plantean situaciones imposibles de resolver a no ser que los bibliotecarios actúen sin tener la completa seguridad de estar dentro de la legalidad. Hay claramente una necesidad urgente de cambios a nivel legislativo.

Para más información, el webinar completo está disponible en la página YouTube de FEBAB.

Thoughts after the FEBAB webinar: IFLA’s work at WIPO and current perspectives in the European copyright reform

[Spanish version available here]

A few days ago, I took part in a webinar organised by the copyright and open access committee of FEBAB, the Brazilian Federation of Library Associations. It was the first of four webinars that seek to inform the library field about copyright in Brazil and at the international level. It was moderated by Sueli Mara Ferreira, from the University of Sao Paulo, and was co-hosted by Anderson de Santana and Walter Couto, from the same institution.

My presentation focused on IFLA’s advocacy work at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and on the European copyright reform. WIPO is a United Nations specialised agency in charge of patents, trademarks, copyright and other related matters. Since several years, IFLA has been represented in this institution’s copyright committee, the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), a forum in which IFLA defends the need to advance towards an international instrument that guarantees exceptions and limitations to copyright suited to the functioning of libraries, archives and museums.

I am not entirely sure of whether the webinar was helpful to participants (although hopefully it was!) but it certainly was to me. There were many interesting questions that referred to key challenges for the library profession around copyright. These questions show the struggle that librarians face when dealing with outdated copyright laws in their work. And by outdated I do not only mean that they are not adapted to the digital world: in some cases, they simply do not allow for fundamental activities such as preservation or lending. While some countries have exceptions and limitations to copyright that expressly allow some public interest activities, copyright in Brazil, for instance, has no exception at all.

This puts librarians in a very difficult position, having to constantly worry about copyright law infringement. Also, even if librarians are careful in guiding the user in how to use works, they cannot control all their actions. With no guarantee, librarians are worried that they might be considered guilty of infringements by users, especially under a legislative framework where any use, even when it is part of public interest activities, can be considered an infringement.

Progress at WIPO gives hope to the sector in countries in which the necessary change has not taken place. The Marrakesh Treaty and its numerous ratifications and accessions by United Nations member states is a very good example of the impact of an international instrument. Changes are happening at the national level that wouldn’t otherwise have taken place.

Two particular questions raised at the webinar are worth exploring in this blog:

  1. The Bern convention establishes the principle of “national treatment”, according to which countries need to apply its own legislation to third party nationals. This may make librarians’ work difficult, as they need to figure out what copyright laws say elsewhere when working across borders. Would it be possible to adopt something similar to the Marrakesh Treaty regarding other exceptions and limitations that can facilitate cross-border work?

IFLA has been advocating for the need of an international instrument, precisely to face the difficulty in applying copyright law across borders where no minimum standards exist. This would also encourage legislative change at the national level.

However, several WIPO member states oppose such an instrument (mainly the European Union, which is surprising given the fact that it already has exceptions and limitations to copyright for cultural heritage institutions and that it is now adopting them to the digital world).

Given the lack of consensus, the SCCR has defined an action plan to advance discussions on the topic, which among other things, establishes several regional meetings, a brainstorming exercise, and finalizes with an international conference whose goal is “to consider the opportunities and challenges provided by various international solutions including soft law, contractual/licensing and normative approaches, as appropriate”.

  1. In the history of copyright, there have been cases in which libraries challenge legislation and assume risks in order to do their work. An example is at the origin of the creation of Section 108 in US legislation, which was created after a legal dispute among a publishing house and a library. What is IFLA’s position regarding libraries wishing to take risks to do their jobs even with no adequate legal guarantees?

IFLA has no official position on that matter, which is clearly a delicate situation. However, IFLA recently adopted a Statement on Copyright Education and Copyright Literacy. The document insists on the need for librarians to have a minimum knowledge of copyright and also makes a series of recommendations. While it does not solve the question, it recognises that the lack of an adequate legal framework in this area can be very problematic. It also encourages more knowledge as a first step for the library field in order to understand the need for change in copyright law, and to advocate for it.

Librarians make efforts to ensure that copyright law is respected, but in some occasions the legal framework is so far away from their public interest mission that they are put in difficult situations. There is clearly an urgent need for change in copyright legislation.

For more information, check the full webinar (in Spanish and Portuguese) on FEBAB’s webpage.