Nigeria Ratifies Copyright Treaties while the IGC Attempts to Reach Agreement on Proposals

As the UN World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) General Assembly gets underway and the budget for the upcoming biennium is determined, there are two developments that occurred during the first week of meetings that are worth mentioning: (1) Nigeria’s ratification of WIPO copyright treaties and (2) the debates surrounding the interpretation of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore’s (IGC) proposed programme of work.

As of October 4th, 2017, Nigeria has adopted and ratified the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty), and the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances (Beijing Treaty). Audu Ayinla Kadiri, a Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva stated that “we [Nigeria] have a very creative Nollywood industry, we have young and enterprising entrepreneurs, we have new businesses coming up here and there, we have a lot of innovative hubs in Nigeria. So, these treaties will serve as a boost to all these trends, which are very positive”.

As discussed in our previous post, the Delegation of Senegal on behalf of the African Group submitted a proposal for the IGC regarding a potential work program for the 2018/19 Biennium. In addition to this, the European Union (EU) created a proposal as well for the mandate of the IGC. The main differences between the two proposals are that The African Group’s proposal “envisages the convening of a high-level negotiating meeting (diplomatic conference) in the first quarter of 2019 to conclude and adopt a legally binding instrument to protect genetic resources”, whereas the EU proposal “is based on further studies and examples of national experiences to narrow gaps on core issues, such as definitions, subject matter, objectives, and the relationship with the public domain”. More importantly, the EU proposal states that until everything in its proposed mandate is accepted, it will be understood that nothing has been accepted. This has led to a contention amongst member states—particularly developing countries—on how to interpret and adopt the EU proposal’s core premises.

The IGC will aim to reach an agreement on the proposal’s main objectives and will report its progress in 2019.

Upcoming WIPO General Assembly Meeting Oct. 2-11, 2017

Delegation of Singapore
Copyright: WIPO. Photo: Joana Hammond. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 IGO License.

The UN World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) General Assembly meetings will be taking place October 2 – 11 in Geneva, Switzerland. Several topics are on the agenda pertaining to the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP), and the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC).

The SCCR will continue its campaign to protect broadcasting organizations at the 35th session of the SCCR, from November 13-17, 2017. In regard to the Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries and Archives, “at its 34th session, the Committee requested the Secretariat to propose a draft action plan for limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives so that the Committee may discuss and consider its adoption for the future work of the Committee at its 35th session.” (p. 3) A similar request was made of the Secretariat for a draft action plan on Limitations and Exceptions for Educational and Research Institutions and Persons with Other Disabilities to be further discussed at the 35th session from November 13-17, 2017. The Analysis of Copyright Related to the Digital Environment and Resale Right will both be maintained at the 35th session from November 13-17, 2017.

For the CDIP, a text has been created for consideration at the General Assembly meeting which “(i) recalls its 2007 decision on Establishing the Committee on Development and Intellectual Property, contained in document A/43/13 Rev., and its decision on the Coordination Mechanisms and Monitoring, Assessing and Reporting Modalities, contained in document WO/GA/39/7, and reaffirms its commitment to their full implementation; “(ii) reaffirms the principles contained in document WO/GA/39/7, Annex II; WO/GA/49/10 page 2 “(iii) reaffirms the right of every Member State to express their views in all WIPO Committees; “(iv) takes note of the conclusion of the debates that took place on the issues contained in the document CDIP/18/10; and “(v) decides to add new agenda item to the CDIP agenda, named IP and development to discuss IP and development-related issues as agreed by the Committee, as well as those decided by the General Assembly.” (p. 1)

The Delegation of Senegal on behalf of the African Group submitted a proposal for the IGC regarding a potential work program for the 2018/19 Biennium. The focus of the work program will be to draft a legally binding contract for Genetic Resources while focusing on “policy objectives, definitions, subject matter of protection, scope of protection, and disclosure requirements.” (p. 4) Additionally, the Delegation of the European Union on behalf of the European Union and its Member States created a proposal for the IGC Mandate of 2018/19, as the WIPO General Assembly agreed at the last meeting that the mandate of the IGC Committee be renewed.

Gurry appointed for second term at WIPO

Francis Gurry has been appointed by the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for a second term as Director General.

Gurry is responsible for “signing, sealing, and delivering” two new intellectual property treaties, including the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities, the first WIPO treaty ever to focus on granting  access to copyright works rather than on granting new intellectual property rights. He also delivered the 2012 Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances.

Controversies had surrounded Gurry’s tenure as head of WIPO, including recent allegations of misconduct (see also report by Fox News); the failure to conclude the fall 2013 General Assembly on time, requiring an extraordinary meeting in December; controversies over the process for establishing new WIPO regional offices; and the (later resolved) shipment of computer equipment to North Korea and Iran.  Some Members of US Congress have opposed his reappointment.

The Twenty Seventh Session of WIPO's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights
Photo: WIPO – Emmanuel Berrod

In his acceptance speech, Gurry made note of a number of challenges that lie ahead, including “asymmetries of wealth, opportunity and knowledge; historical and contemporary trust deficits; and the reality of a multi-speed and multi-tiered world in which multilateralism, while being the highest expression of inclusiveness and legitimacy, is nevertheless the slowest solution.”  He also thanked the diplomatic community in Geneva, saying  “Ambassadors and their colleagues have been extremely generous with their time and availability, very indulgent of my failings and shortcomings and always willing to engage and to assist in overcoming difficulties.”

Gurry, an Australian, was appointed from a slate of four candidates including also Nigerian Geoffrey Onyeama, WIPO Deputy Director General; Alfredo Suescum, Chair of WTO TRIPs Council and Panama’s Ambassador to the World Trade Organization; and diplomat Jüri Seilenthal of Estonia.  Seilenthal was eliminated in March.  Gurry’s second term will last until 2020.

Who Should Lead the Future of International IP: The Director General Election

Once every six years WIPO elects a new Director General. The elections will take place this year, March 6th 2014. The current Director General, Francis Gurry, during his term has worked to alleviate the tension on current patent and copyright systems that are caused by developments in digital technology. The future head of WIPO will be expected to advance the organization’s mandate to further international intellectual property systems that benefit member states in equal terms.

There are four candidates running for the position this year. They include current director general Francis Gurry (Australia), Deputy Director General Geoffry Onyeama (Nigeria), Ambassador Jüri Seilenthal (Estonia), and Ambassador Alfredo Suescum (Panama). The candidates appeared before WIPO member states to answer questions.

Candidates for Director General of WIPO: (From left to right) Alfredo Suescum, Jüri Seilenthal, Geoffry Onyeama, and Francis Gurry.
Candidates for Director General of WIPO: (From left to right) Alfredo Suescum (Photo: Intracen) , Jüri Seilenthal (Photo: ITU News) , Geoffry Onyeama (Photo: The Rainbow), and Francis Gurry (Photo: WIPO).

Gurry’s authority has come under fire recently by several US congressmen and other lawmakers for supplying North Korea and Iran with computers, violating UN sanctions that prohibited such activites. Nevertheless Gurry maintains no sanctions were violated and that the computers were sent as part of a program to enable developing countries to search through international patent databases. This project is meant to reduce counterfeits and support a strong international IP infrastructure. Gurry also angered several member states by agreeing to open a WIPO office in Moscow.

The drama surrounding current Director General Gurry’s office is heightened further in that he was the successor to former Director General Kamil Idris who was forced to step down due to misconduct. Instability and distrust in WIPO as an institution could not come at a worse time given that developments that could even the international IP playing field, especially in terms of genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and folklore (GRTKF). Among the biggest proponents of a new, fair, and effective GRTKF regime are the members of the African Union who have declared their formal support for the candidacy of Deputy Director General Geoffry Onyeama. Onyeama is also responsible for WIPO’s development sector, which is commissioned with advancing the needs of developing nations in order for them to benefit from innovation and the knowledge economy.

Candidate Alfredo Suescum is the current Chair of the WTO TRIPs Council and Ambassador to the WTO. He is a US educated lawyer who has held several other diplomatic posts including a UN ambassadorship on behalf of Panama. He is known to stand his ground on behalf of the needs of his constituents which was demonstrated in the Doha Round, after which the US apparently put pressure to remove him from his post.

Finally, Ambassador Jüri Seilenthal plans to run a campaign based on balancing the needs of developed and developing nations, special attention to small and medium enterprises and private investors, tight fiscal management and transparency, and consolidation of WIPO treaties in order to gain universal coverage and accession of WIPO treaties. He is also the former chair of the WIPO Coordination Committee, and of the Trade and Development Board of the UN Conference on Trade and Development and a human rights expert.

Along with their experience and qualifications, the results of ongoing meetings and campaign appearances will be taken into account while deciding who will be WIPO’s Director General for the 2014–2020 cycle. The deciding body, a rotating group of 83 member states called the Coordination Committee, will make its edecision based on the approved conventions. Their decision will then go to the General Assembly so that all member states can approve their decision, or not.

The Coordination Committee will meet to nominate a candidate on Marcy 6 & 7 2014.

A Closer Look at the 2013 GA: The Case of PPI

WIPO delegates at the WIPO General Assembly. (Photo: WIPO)

With all of the conflicts and concerns which seemed emblematic of this year’s General Assembly, one thing is of particular note: this year’s refusal of admittance of the Pirate Party International (PPI) to Observer Status for the organization. PPI is an international umbrella organization founded in 2010, and represents 43 parties around the world, with a number of currently elected officials. Continue reading “A Closer Look at the 2013 GA: The Case of PPI”