Peaks and Valleys at WIPO’s Latest SCCR

WIPO’s latest meeting of the SCCR had both failures and successes. Although it was without any agreements on established agenda items, for the second time in a row, the meeting did mark the very first ratification of the Marrakesh treaty.

It seems as though a pattern is starting to form in the WIPO’s SCCR where developed countries are resisting efforts made by developing countries to create a copyright environment that will be favourable to their development.  Several developing countries stressed the development aspect of this UN agency in hopes to steer the focus of discussions to issues found in the Development Agenda. “Developing countries are pushing for limitations and exceptions to copyright, developed countries contend that the current copyright system is adequate” (Info Justice).

In order to bypass the refusal of the European Union and other countries to get to a text-based work on libraries and archives, the US delegation was invited by the Chair to present objectives and principles for exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives. The US delegate stated that the proposal was “seeking agreement on basic goals at the international level on which to base further work on national laws” but the EU insisted that they were “not willing to work towards a legally binding instrument” (IP Watch), a position they adopted at the previous meeting of the SCCR. This is troublesome for developing countries that rely mostly on foreign works and who do not have developed and self-sustaining publishing industries.

This position is troublesome to librarians and archivists who are seeking to have updated the legal frameworks that they work within to preserve and acquire works and make them available for education and research. A further issue that they want WIPO to address is that of contract licenses for digital content which often overrides the exceptions and limitations currently being discussed within the SCCR. “Collectively, libraries today spend billions of dollars each year on licensed digital content” according to the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).  Ellen Broad, the manager of digital projects at IFLA said that “amounts spent on content differ dramatically” while Simonetta Vezzoso, copyright consultant at the Associazione Italiana Biblioteche (Italy) added that “There is little transparency in costs across suppliers” (IP Watch).

Despite setbacks however, India became the first country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty. “We congratulate India on its ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty and hope this ratification will be the first of many,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “When the Marrakesh Treaty takes effect, the lives of people who are visually impaired around the world will be enriched” Gurry Said (AG-IP News). The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled seeks to, as the name suggests, facilitate the production, dissemination and exchange of works for “persons who are blind, visually impaired, or reading disabled or persons with a physical disability that prevents them from holding and manipulating a book” (WIPO). The treaty will come into force once 20 ratifications have been presented to WIPO.

In addition, the Accessible Books Consortium was launched and is tasked with increasing the number of accessible books “for use by hundreds of millions of people around the globe who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled, most of whom live in less-developed regions” (WIPO). According to WIPO, ABC was created to help increase access to works by print disabled individuals through work in three areas: “the sharing of technical skills in developing and least developed countries to produce and distribute books in accessible formats, promoting inclusive publishing, and building an international database and book exchange of accessible books”.

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