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Copyright debate trundles on in Geneva

I'M BACK in Geneva for the World Intellectual Property Organization's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. I wasn't able to make the first two days, devoted to debating a treaty to give broadcasters rights to protect their signal from "piracy". Little seems to have changed since I last spoke on this in November 2016.

Wednesday: exceptions to copyright

The Secretariat has presented five "draft action plans" for taking forward discussion of limitations and exceptions to copyright - that is, laws allowing the use of authors'a and performers' works without permission and, often, without payment.

Some diplomats are concerned that they had little time to consider these before the meeting. They were expecting only two plans. "More time is needed to analyse them" - which when uttered by a diplomat means "we will not agree to anything at this meeting".

The EU reiterates its recognition of the crucial function of libraries, archives and museums. Its favourite approach is to focus on efficient functioning of exceptions and limitations within the existing Treaties. It cannot support work towards legally binding international instruments.

Brazil showed a subtle change in emphasis by saying that it makes no sense to improve access to knowledge if there are no incentives for the production of knowledge. But it supports work on a treaty.

Iran highlights that existing exceptions and limitations do not sufficiently deal with the digital environment and supports a treaty.

Indonesia notes that there is no consensus for "normative work" (that is, working toward a Treaty) but wants us to carry on working toward that.

I said that:

The IFJ represents 600,000 journalists in 140 countries worldwide, North and South. I am a journalist, from London, which when I left was considered part of the developed North.

The IFJ recognises the importance of libraries and archives and museums. We note, too, the number of delegations referring to the needs of the digital environment. One feature of that is that libraries and archives in effect act as publishers, making their holdings available off-site. This is a positive development, so long as it is properly understood and legislated for.

The IFJ recognises too the issue of the expense of information, particularly scholarly journals, in the South: parity purchasing power is not the same as the exchange rate. But there is a deep irony here. Some countries whose citizens must pay higher prices in local terms are seeking to flood their own market with my works, distributed without payment to me - which causes rather more damage to authors working in their own culture and language than it does to me.

Supporting a diversity of authorship is essential, and that means fair remuneration for authors when our works are made available to the public. We agree with the EU that the issue for the traditional on-site work of libraries and archives is the effective application of existing laws.

Professor Cruz presented an updated study on the exceptions and limitations applying to libraries and archives internationally. The US picked up his point that only 28 countries now have no such laws, a considerable reduction from his previous update. Implication: so why is international law required?

This goes to the heart of what's going on, or not going on, here in Geneva. Are the proponents of new Treaties trying to pass international law to avoid going through their own country's legislature? Is that in order to get others to do the drafting work, or becase it wouldn't pass at home? Or is it a purely symbolic mark of respect for their position?

Authors' rights in Nigeria

At lunchtime we had reports from Nigeria. Interestingly, there is an initiative to get proper contracts to be the norm in Nollywood, where films are currently frequently made without performers and others having any contract. On the downside, there is a push to introduce US-style "fair use" rules to cover use of works without permission - evem, it was suggested, in making movies out of them.

Wednesday afternoon

Comments on Professor Cruz' report continued.

Australia spoke for "Group B" - the grouping of the industrialised countried, named neutrally after the room in which it meets, Room B. It (she?) praised the work on efficient implementation of the existing "well-functioning framework". That's not support for a new Treaty.

Indonesia, for the Asia-Pacific Group, noted the difficulty of access to research material. It looked forward to further studies and updated studies.

Georgia, for the Central European group (what does CEPS stand for?) believes that work on a legally-binding instrument would not be an appropriate outcome for the work of this Committee.

Senegal, for the African Group, noted the issues and awaits with interest the further studies, including one on people with disabilities other than print disabilities. (Senegal has traditionally been more supportive of authors' rights than almost any country.)

The EU supports continued work and welcomes the studies. It noted the different legal systems. In many member states, licensing plays an important role alongside or instead of exceptions. A legally-binding instrument is not needed; an exchange of best practices is.

NGO Communia referred to the legitimacy of copyright.

I responded:

Delegates need to remember that in the digital age hundreds of millions of people are published or broadcast authors or performers - many of them school students. I have personally encountered those who write eloquently online about their opposition to copyright - until the moment their work was used in a context of which they do not approve and they seek my help to enforce their authors' rights. Full-fat authors' rights - and particularly perhaps the so-called moral rights - are rights of every citizen.

In the context of education, Maureen Duffy has suggested that encouraging school students to assertive of authorship of their own works. This would contribute immensely to understanding of the legitimacy of copyright and authors' rights.

The work of professional authors remains, however, a major "raw material" for education. The IFJ believes that teachers need to be properly paid too and observes that relying on unpaid teachers can have very serious effects on quality of education. If education is dependent on sponsored books or other works or those produced by people who are enthusiasts for a cause, it suffers.

As I have said previously in this Committee, the solution is to raise funds to do education properly; to use fair licensing schemes including collective licensing; and to for this Committee to support capacity-building schemes to ensure that such licensing is available worldwide, North and South.

More to come...