A Closer Look at the 2013 GA: The SCCR

WIPO delegates at the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. (Photo: WIPO)

Among the Agenda Items which were left unfinished at this year’s General Assembly, was item 34: Matters Relating to the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR). The SCCR is one of WIPO’s busiest and perhaps most important committees to stakeholders within the IP community. Both of the organization’s most recently adopted international treaties, the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances (2012), as well as the Marrakesh treaty on copyright exceptions for the blind and other visually impaired (2013) were developed through the work of this committee.

Now, moving forward, the SCCR finds itself with three more treaties currently on the agenda, but a certain amount of disagreement remains about which one should be prioritized over the coming year. On the table are the following working documents: the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations treaty, an international legal instrument on exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives, as well as an international legal instrument on limitations and exceptions for educational, teaching and research institutions and persons with other disabilities.

Oppositions of opinion seem to exist not only surrounding which treaty ought to be prioritized within the discussions of upcoming sessions, but also around whether there is a need for any of these treaties at all. During GA discussions, Member States such as  Belgium (September 26, 2013, morning session, 33:43), speaking on behalf of group B, as well as the European Union (September 26, 2013, morning session, 41:37) and the United States (September 26, 2013, morning session, 51:36), all stated that not only should the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations be the committee’s main priority, but that new norm setting behaviors for exceptions and limitations towards libraries and archives, or education and research would be undesirable. Instead, they believe that Member States should strive to share their experiences and work within the already existing international framework. Many of these countries already have established systems for allowing exceptions and limitations on such grounds, and feel that further legislation would be unhelpful.

Other Member States, such as Algeria (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:02:45), representing the African Group, Brazil (September 26, 2013, morning session, 59:02), representing the Development Agenda Group (DAG), Kenya (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:18:38), El Salvador (September 26, 2013, morning session, 43:55), The Islamic State of Iran (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:21:38), India (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:28:24), South Africa (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:32:35) and others, all reiterated the importance of access to knowledge for developing countries especially, and that discussions on the matter needed to be continued. The DAG reiterated the equal importance of both sides’ concerns and issues, a belief supported by many developing countries. The prevailing concern seems to be with balance: both within the treaty for broadcasting organizations and within the the SCCR, between right holders, and a strongly felt need for better access to materials for educational purposes, as well as for the public at large.

NGOs which were present during the discussions presented their own opinions on the subject to Member States, and had some of the strongest opinions presented. A representative for Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:45:23) urged WIPO members to stop pretending that there was consensus over the protection of broadcasting organizations if there wasn’t one. He raised an objection about the lack of clarity about what exact problem is was that this treaty is attempting to solve, which cannot already be solved through proper enforcement of current legislature. He asked that Member States avoid a situation where they create a further layer of permission that people must go through in order to gain access to copyrighted works, or which undermines the interests of copyright owners to give more rights to transmitters.

Representatives for Broadcasting Organizations such as North American Broadcasters Association (NABA) (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:51:18) and European Broadcasters Union (EBU) (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:59:27), on the other hand, reiterated the importance of updating the current legal framework around the protection of broadcast signals, and urged the GA to speed up the process of deliberation. The EBU, for example, believes that the absence of a treaty on broadcast organizations cripples organizations from serving the public in the best ways possible.

Finally, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:55:47), which represents Libraries in over 160 countries took the floor to impress upon member states the importance of libraries as a critical intermediary between right holders (mainly publishers) and users. According to this organization, “in a digital world where information is increasingly borderless, however, the disparity between national frameworks on exceptions for libraries makes it virtually impossible to competently fulfill our role as intermediaries.” The international IP environment is chaotic for libraries and archives, and he hoped that discussions could move forward in the coming year.

On top of these various conflicts of opinions was an unevenly distributed proposal for a work plan to conclude discussions on the protection of broadcasting organizations, brought forward by the Central European and Baltic States (CEBS) Group, represented by Poland (September 26, 2013, morning session, 36:28). Certain countries such as Mexico (September 26, 2013, morning session, 54:46) and Poland (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:06:24) supported the proposed plan,while many others such as Algeria (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:02:45), Brazil (September 26, 2013, morning session, 59:02), Egypt (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:08:18), India (September 26, 2013, morning session, 1:28:24) and El Salvador (September 26, 2013, morning session, 43:55), claimed to be completely unfamiliar with the proposal, and requested more time to study the proposal before a decision could be reached.

No concrete conclusions to any of these issues could be adopted by the end of this year’s General Assembly, and they will be up for renewed discussion during the extraordinary WIPO meetings coming up this December. The full webcast of this agenda item can be found on the WIPO website, following this link.