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Geneva diary - authors’ rights roundup

WIPO - the UN body the World Intellectual Property Organization - is holding a meeting of its Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR 23) in Geneva, Switzerland. This may be one of the geekier sentences ever to appear in the Freelance - but stick around.

The meeting is the focus of efforts to drive wedges into the rights of freelance journalists, and other creators, to control and to get paid for uses of our works.


25 November 2011, 2pm

Blind alley

I PREDICT that WIPO is about to call for a diplomatic conference that could issue an instruction to all its 184 member states to pass laws in favour of "the print-disabled". These laws would allow the distribution of accessible versions of (written) creative works without the permission of the author (or of another "rightsholder", such as the publisher who imposed a rights-grab contract on you). They would also allow such accessible version to be distributed across national borders.

As veteran authors' rights campaigner Maureen Duffy put it at the back of the room, "no sane author would oppose this" - but the devil is in the detail. The World Blind Union is supported by a bevy of anti-copyright campaigners. Those whose funding we've examined seem to be the Friends of Google. Google, as usual, isn't present to argue in person that it should have the right to copy what it wants when it wants and make money selling advertising around it.

From a UK perspective, the draft under discussion in general says little that's not already in UK law. There is one difference - though only the journalists' unions (represented by, er, me) and the government of the United States of America seem to think it's important.

That is: the current draft would allow copies to be made and distributed without permission for the benefit of someone who

"is blind [or] has a visual impairment or a perceptual or reading disability or any other print disability..." or cannot hold a book.

"Any other print disability" would seem to include anyone who's "too cool to learn to read". If, however, the US sticks to its insistence that this phrase "defeats the careful construction" needed in international law, then the wording will be tightened and this problem will go away. In UK law it is tight [1].

Strangest bit of the day: Egypt proposes that the "exception" for the benefit of blind people (or more) include translation rights. The United States opposes this, saying: "we would be very concerned about the moral rights implications". In the US the "moral rights" to be identified and to defend the inegrity of a work exist only for works of visual art in signed and numbered editions of 250 or fewer made on a Tuesday. (There is one lie in that sentence.) Many US commentators are vehemently opposed to them. Nice to see the current Administration calling them in aid.

25 November 2011, 5pm

Perhaps I predicted too soon. The WIPO inner core - the representatives of the regional groups of countries - went into a meeting four hours ago, and hasn't reappeared.

The process has turned very strange - effectively, bilateral negotiations between the World Blind Union and International Publishers' Association, with the member states meeting in parallel. The WBU and IPA were supposed to sit in on the inner core discussions. But their representatives are back in the conference room, waiting alongside dozens of quite expensive diplomats...

25 November 2011, 6pm

But no, the inner core has reappeared: delegations have until midnight to submit their thoughts on the current draft, which will become a Working Document on Monday; then someone will propose a date for a Diplomatic Conference that will negotiate it into a Treaty, a Protocol to an existing Treaty or a Recommendation.

If, that is, the argument over what kind of law it should be doesn't talk the whole thing out, again. The WBU and the South American countries who put forward the gist of this proposal are adamant that anything less than a full-fat Treaty will show fatal disrespect to the blind people of the world.


26 November 2011

Broadcasters’ rights?

The whole weekend was due to be taken up with "informal consultations" on a Treaty to give broadcasters a right over their "signal" in a similar way to recording studios' right over the recordings, separately from the rights in what is transmitted (or recorded). That right is neither a copyright nor an authors' or performers' right: but it can have the effect that anyone who wants to use a musical work has to clear this "mechanical right" first;.

Originally, the US (under George W. Bush) proposed that the new right extend to "webcasting". In the orthodoxy of "media convergence", that would cover practically all future works - except novelty collectors' editions still published on paper. Delegates to WIPO were alert to this risk and the General Assembly restricted debate to a measure protecting broadcasters' "signals". Now, it has become clear that for-profit piracy of broadcasts isn't limited to transmitter towers - web-streaming figures too. So South Africa has put up a proposal trying to make a new right cover as much as possible. The US is now arguing that it should be limited, which means it will be, under this Administration.

So, practically, what happens if there is a new right and a broadcaster has sole access to, for example, some video footage from Tahrir Square in Cairo?

Firstly, there is going to be an "exception" to any new right allowing (in one current draft) "short excerpts used in connection with the reporting of current events".

Secondly, I'm coming to the conclusion that the main effect of a new broadcasters' right would be to force would-be users to contact the creators - the producer and director, in the case of a film under UK law - directly, avoiding the broadcaster. This could be no bad thing. On the other hand it would encourage broadcasters to demand exclusive licenses (or even assignment of all rights) from creators, so the broadcaster had end-to-end control. This could be a bad thing - but it already is.


27 November 2011

Day off!


28 November 2011

Mid-session fatigue. Highlights of the day include a half-hour argument over whether to re-number the Articles of the proposed Treaty for the benefit of blind people (and maybe also the hard-of-thinking) - and a more important but even more confusing difference of opinion over whether countries' comments on an early proposal on exceptions for the benefit of libraries and archives go inline in square brackets or, as the EU proposes, in a column of a tabular document.

A highlight of the latter document is the US alerting delegates to the "danger that one library could end up making copies for all libraries, essentially taking away an authorís market to the entire country once one copy is sold to one library".


29 November 2011, 11:00am

Delegates from African countries want to adopt the above-mentioned compilation of views on libraries and archives as a "working document". The EU and US say: "too early: wait until after the 28 February deadline for further written comments... more study is required". Odds on adoption: 100:1 against.

29 November 2011, 11:45am

The Deputy Director-General's proposal that the document be adopted as a "provisional working document" with a view to it being adopted as a "working document" at the next session of the Committee is put: the United States says "perhaps we can come back to this issue as late as Friday". Duly postponed.

29 November 2011, 12:45am

I get to present the IFJ's agreed statement: a bit naughty, because the session is supposed to be specifically about the proposed treaty granting a "neighbouring right" to broadcasters.

29 November 2011, 13:04

The MPA (movie producers) seems to be thanking the anti-copyright groups for raising the issue of protecting the authors' rights embedded in television broadcasts. Bizarre. But true.

29 November 2011, 17:20

We're on to article-by-article examination of a Draft Treaty on protection of Broadcasting Organizations. Conclusion from the gentle chiding by the EU & US: it's waaay not ready for prime-time.


30 November 2011

The non-governmental organisations have been chucked out of the meeting room while the diplomats have a two-day meeting preparatory to next year's Diplomatic Conference to pass a Treaty on the rights of performers in audiovisual works (films). When WIPO tried this in 2000 it was blocked because the US demanded a "presumption of transfer" of performers' rights to their producers, and the rest of the world said as one "no way" As I understand it, the proposal still on the table from last year is that member states of WIPO be allowed to do this - so the US doesn't have to change.

So I'm going home.


Yes, there are footnotes

[1] The UK's Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 says that copies may be made for a "visually impaired" person, defined rather precisely as someone:

  1. who is blind;
  2. who has an impairment of visual function which cannot be improved, by the use of corrective lenses, to a level that would normally be acceptable for reading without a special level or kind of light;
  3. who is unable, through physical disability, to hold or manipulate a book; or
  4. who is unable, through physical disability, to focus or move his eyes to the extent that would normally be acceptable for reading.
Last modified: 29 Nov 2011 - © 2011 contributors
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