Occasionally, copyright and the rights of disabled people are framed as somehow incompatible—as though the former may preclude the latter—but to my mind these rights are definitely not mutually exclusive.
Fridays at the SCCR are always unpredictable, and Friday 5 May was no exception. Yet whereas the usual drill is the final plenary dragging on late into the evening to enable time for a satisfactory closure, today was a little more mysterious.
For starters, there was more backroom huddling than open plenary debate at times when the sessions were theoretically meant to be live. The chamber stood eerily quiet for much of the day.
This was largely driven by the chairman, Daren Tang, who was anxious that his first SCCR should conclude with a substantive recommendation to the budget-setting WIPO General Assemblies, in October.
In his own words, the goal was to produce something more meaningful than the usual safe recommendation that the SCCR should merely keep strumming away at the incumbent agenda.
However, having resumed the final plenary at around 4pm, Tang then quickly adjourned it again to allow the national groupings to hold decisive in camera talks, and draw a confident line under the week’s work.
Today the SCCR talks ticked onwards to the ‘and persons of other disabilities’ part of the agenda item ‘limitations and exceptions for educational and research institutions and for persons with other disabilities’ (referring to non-visual impairments).
Professor Blake Reid, of the University of Colorado, an IP and disability law maven, presented the skeleton of a new scoping study that will map the potential needs of people with ‘other disabilities’ and to determine the extent to which copyright law is affecting them.
The lunchtime lobbying event was staged by a group of organizations, including the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (the PIJIP, which made an appearance in yesterday’s post) whose stated common goal is ‘fixing copyright for modern education’.
Among the speakers was Delia Browne, ‘education lead’ for Creative Commons Australia and Director of Australia’s National Copyright Unit (Schools and TAFEs). One of her roles is to consult on copyright law reviews in Australia, which means she’s never idle.
Delia began by noting that Australia is often held up as a benchmark in providing educational access, due to a system of statutory licensing which has been around since the 1980s and a whole series of exceptions.
Committee Chair Daren Tang brought to bear his endearing blend of levitas and gravitas this morning as he started the day’s negotiations on ‘limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives’. As he did so, Tang reminded the delegates of the burden of responsibility they bear, something that’s becoming his signature patter.
He said their decisions ‘can make a positive impact on the lives of the millions of citizens out there who are in different countries struggling with different issues’, and that copyright ‘impacts the lives of every person’.
‘I hope that we will be able to move towards something that is constructive, something that is useful not just from the government perspective, but from the human perspective ... the connection of what we do here with the lives of those people will become a lot more apparent than it is now, will become a lot more positive than it is right now, and I believe that's the spirit in which we should work,’ he said.
The inference – intended or otherwise – is that the SCCR has a duty to put the greater good before self-interest and other less noble considerations.
Despite this, most of the delegates then stated again that an international instrument is the wrong approach, while pockets of the Global South want it. By the same token, content owners don’t see the point, while librarians and archivists vehemently do. It’s hard to see a way through this impasse, and indeed the Chair’s greatest task now will be to map such a route.
Today’s talks unfolded almost entirely behind closed doors during so-called ‘informals’, a setting usually employed to unblock a particularly tough impasse, when consensus on the floor of the plenary has proved impossible.
The informals, which take place in a separate chamber on the WIPO campus, are strictly for country delegations only. NGOs are not invited, but we can follow the audio feed from the plenary chamber provided we don’t report publicly what is said.
This approach enables the delegates to be freer and franker when wrangling over semantic minutiae that, ultimately, will form the substance of the text.
It was late afternoon before the committee returned to the plenary chamber to report on their talks. Chairman Daren Tang immediately poured cold water on the idea that a diplomatic conference on the broadcasting treaty was around the corner (see previous blog post). However, he did suggest the 'chair's text' be upgraded to a 'committee text'. This is a baby step closer to collective acceptance of the working document under discussion, which until now had only reflected the previous chair's personal attempt to provide a fair text.
Other than that, I have nothing much to write about what happened today ... so let’s look at tomorrow, when the IPA, with FEP and Bertlesmann, will stage a side-event with a difference.
SCCR 34 opened this rainy Geneva morning, if not with a bang, at least with the hope that proceedings could ‘swing’ under the leadership of the committee’s upbeat new chairman, onetime jazzman, Daren Tang.
After WIPO Director General Francis Gurry passed him the gavel, Tang, who is CEO of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, promised to do his best to yield results – particularly on the stickier agenda items.
Chief among these is the ‘protection of broadcasting organizations’, which has basically ping-ponged back and forth across the floor for 20 years, despite WIPO’s best efforts to drag it forwards.
Acknowledging the friction, Tang said: “The work has been challenging. Some of the items on the agenda as you know have been around for a long time and I will not deny that they challenge the spirit of openness, transparency and fairness. We hope we’ll be able to give this meeting and all the different agenda items in it the best possible airing, the best possible push.”
Tang also hoped that his perspectives and experience, coming from Singapore – “a bridge between East and West, North and South, developed and developing” – would help things along.
WHAT DO Alanis Morissette, Margaret Atwood, Bryan Adams, Marie Claire Blais, Michael Bublé, Sharon Pollock, Gordon Lightfoot and William Deverell have in common? Yes, they are all Canadian (eh?)
Professor Daniel Seng returned to the chamber briefly this morning to field more questions and comments about his mega-study. A night’s sleep had clearly worked wonders on everyone, and the questions came thick and fast from all corners of the room.
Some delegates wanted clarifications; others suggested ways to improve the report. And it seemed that my prayers in Wednesday’s post had been answered when the Brazilian delegate spoke. In previous SCCRs Brazil has made a series of utterances indicating a distinctly ‘copyleft’ bent. But perhaps the wind of change blowing through Brazilian politics has arrived on this side of the Atlantic, as the delegate said: ‘In Brazil, this report will provide us with much food for thought in our ongoing internal debates about copyright law reform.’
Once Prof. Seng had departed (probably for a well-earned rest), the discussion moved onto exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives. One of the first interventions of the session was by the Nigerian spokeswoman on behalf of the African Group.
She said: ‘We believe it is simply time to determine a functional path forward, for the committee's work in this area. We strongly believe that the absence of a clear result-oriented timeframe for the committee — for the committee's discussion of the limitations and exceptions agenda — is more harmful than helpful to the work programme of the SCCR and the overall objective of the exercise.’
IPA’s legal counsel Carlo Scollo Lavizzari, a Swiss polyglot who’s well versed in diplo-speak, suggested that this statement could be read in two ways. Either the African Group wants to strike exceptions and limitations from the agenda altogether, since it is acting as a brake, or, more likely, they want to impose a strict timeframe in order to force a more urgent resolution.
The morning began with a strategy huddle among the IPA-coordinated Creative Sector Organizations (CSO) group − a coalition of audio-visual, music and publishing industry representatives with a common goal: to protect creators, creations and creativity from attempts to weaken copyright.
Writing for the Kluwer Copyright Blog, Tatiana Synodinou, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Cyprus, looks at the implications of Brexit on European copyright law, and wonders if, with the UK's common law model out of the equation, could this be an opportunity for deeper integration and a step towards an EU copyright code?