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.

The meeting of WIPO's twenty-eighth session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights
Photo: WIPO – Emmanuel Berrod

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”.

What will be discussed at this meeting of the CDIP?

The Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) is a body created by WIPO’s general assembly in 2008. It is tasked with creating and adapting programs according to the 45 recommendations of the Development Agenda. The CDIP will be meeting from May 19th to the 23rd of this year and has many items on its agenda. Several topics are planned for discussion, the most relevant of which will follow.

First, the committee has chosen to have a third party independent review of its implementation of the development agenda recommendations to its programs. Before doing this however, the committee must discuss and arrive at a consensus on the terms of reference to be used for the review (CDIP/13 Webcast: Mon 19 – English Morning Session).

The next item has the CDIP tasked with the discussion and reporting of two important issues. The first is the implementation of the ‘Coordination Mechanism’, or the Coordination Mechanisms and Monitoring, Assessing and Reporting Modalities, which requests reports from all WIPO bodies on how they are implementing the development agenda recommendations. Secondly, CDIP must come to consensus on a new agenda item on the third pillar of the CDIP mandate, Technology Transfer, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Access to Knowledge. According to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, this “cannot be referred back to the General Assembly until such time as you, in the CDIP, have reached agreement upon a recommendation that can form the basis of a decision of the General Assembly” (CDIP/13 Webcast: Mon 19 – English Morning Session).

The External Review of WIPO Technical Assistance in the Area of Cooperation for Development will further be discussed in order to identify the best ways to improve WIPO’s technical assistance activities. Technical assistance, in this context, refers to the development of programs that will enable developing nations to participate in the global intellectual property system. This encompasses a number of programs including online services that seek to facilitate filing and registering IP rights and other initiatives that seek to better integrate regional systems to the global IP infrastructure (WIPO).

Finally, the CDIP will discuss Patent Related Flexibilities in the Multilateral Legal Framework and their Legislative Implementation at the National and Regional Levels. According to recommendation 14 of the WIPO’s Development Agenda, “Within the framework of the agreement between WIPO and the WTO, WIPO shall make available advice to developing countries and LDCs, on the implementation and operation of the rights and obligations and the understanding and use of flexibilities contained in the TRIPS Agreement” (WIPO).

At the Thirteenth Session of WIPO's CDIP
Photo: WIPO – Emmanuel Berrod

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.