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Authors’ rights worldwide - WIPO notes

THE WORLD Intellectual Property Organisation is the United Nations organisation charged with making international law on authors' rights and copyright. It has a brand-new conference chamber in Geneva, and it's a very strange experience: you tiptoe into a room full of hundreds of diplomats - in almost complete silence. Someone is speaking quietly into a microphone and everyone is listening to them, or a translation, through an earpiece... except those who have given up and decided to do some work on their laptops.

The beginning of this week's 30th session of WIPO's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) was taken up with discussions on granting a new right to broadcasters. This would not be a copyright, but a so-called "neighbouring right" in an analogous way to performers' rights being "neighbouring" to those of the authors whose works they peform. Got that?

The argument is over what would be protected. It's been going on for 16 years. The difficulty is to stop unscrupulous people making money by re-transmitting broadcasters' "signal" - without making a new right that affects all forms of distribution of authors' and performers' work except perhaps illuminated manuscripts. The merging of broadcasting, like publishing, into the interwebs is an issue that grows year by year.

The Chair summed up the state of the discussion thus: "A signal should be protected in its transmission over any platform, giving [traditional] broadcasters the power to prevent interference or unauthorised re-transmission."

Performers need pay

Musicians' organisations called a meeting on the Monday evening to point to the difficulty their members have in getting paid. Berlin-based musician Christopher Blenkinsop illustrated how the discussions above - or even reports of them such as this - sound to musicians: "Bluggh fleagh tlubb tlubb tlubb". Belgian concrete poetry, I think.

WIPO Diretor-General Francis Gurry introduced the event, saying he was "delighted" to be collaborating with the Fédération Internationale des Musiciens. Responding on a policy level to FIM's call for performers to have "an unwaivable right to payment for making their work available in digital services where they have transferred or assigned their rights", though, he said simply that WIPO was "very interested". Full details of the campaign are at and I'll inevitable be returning to the issues this raises. Bopp bopp plaugh plaugh plaugh!

Exceptions to copyright

At 3pm on Wednesday SCCR turned to debate of proposals for international law governing exceptions to copyright - the rules saying when your work can be used without permission from, or payment to, you.

The African group of countries, the strongest proponent of the widest exceptions, called on the Committee to get a move on. This subject has been on the agenda a mere dozen years. The Committee should move to "text-based work" - negotiating the actual wording of a Treaty. Interestingly, they were not specific about the controversial issues - such as whether authors would continue to get paid when large parts of their works are used in schools.

The Central European and Baltic States group, in contrast, said "any normative approach would be inappropriate" which, being translated, means there should be no new Treaty. Countries that have not already made laws governing use of your work by schools, colleges, museums and libraries should just do so.

Japan, representing the industrialised countries ("Group B" in the jargon), said "we should not turn our eyes away from the reality that no consensus exists in this Committee for normative work [see above]." China outlined what China has done.

The EU said that "work on this subject required first of all clarity about the expected outcome... Proposals containing language geared toward [a Treaty] are not helpful." WIPO member states can instead "exchange best practice" and act on it.

(Implied in all such contributions is: "why do you need to change international law before writing your own law based on, for example, what the EU has done? Are you sidestepping the law-making process of your own country? Are you trying to get law that goes far beyond the rational measures the EU has thrashed out - and is a large Californian corporation cheering you on?" I repeat: this is implied and not the stated EU position.)

Brazil, chair of the Latin American and Caribbean group that put forward the most developed proposals, but speaking on its own behalf, spoke of the need for libraries to be able to make archive copies, and to make works available to the public with remuneration to the author (unless you've signed your rights over to the publisher).

That speech from Brazil may mark a turning-point in this debate.

Iran spoke of the need for protection of authorship... and empowering new creativity. The proposals do not sufficiently reflect emerging technological developments. But the Islamic Rebublic echoed the call for a Treaty. Russia called for work to progress and reminded the Committee that "we mustn't forget the main person we are concerned with - the creator - the author."

The temperature rises

The first three days of the meeting were often somnolent, despite air-conditioning keeping out the record heat. That changed as discussion between member states on exceptions to authors' rights.

After procedural wrangling, the Committee started discussing a list of points that the Chair had drawn up - starting with measures to allow libraries to make copies for archiving and preservation. The Chair soon called for views from non-governmental organisations.

Everyone is, oddly enough, in favour of archiving and preservation of creative works. But how? In a statement for the International Federation of Journalists I noted that we strongly support our work being archived, "while being wary of legal accidents that turn 'archiving' into parallel publication". More lawyerly delegates noted the phrase "legal accidents"...

The International Federation of Journalists also asked delegations to contact us about possible initiatives on unfair contracts, and some did so immediately. More, later.

Further study is required

Astonishingly, the Committee agreed before lunch on Friday to ask for studies cataloguing the laws of member states as the affect libraries, archives and education: and to wind up. Previous sessions have gone on until 2am on Saturday or later.

Artists' resale right

There was thus time for Other Business. The distinguished delegate for Congo ("Brazzaville") proposed adding visual artists' right to a share of the sale price of ther works - droit de suite - to be added to the Committee's agenda.

Sénegal and Kenya spoke in support - and so did the European Union. So it has a chance of happening.

Brazil, keen to push the libraries and education exceptions, and to devote maximum time to it, suggested ceding an hour of discussion at the next SCCR, due in December.

Tanzania noted that, like Kenya, it is drafting national legislation. Iran recalled that SCCR had decided not to take any new agenda items before finishing the current list, and supported Brazil's suggestion.

And then the US spoke. On the benefits of enriching the agenda. And supporting Canada, requesting delegates to come prepared for "a thoughtful discussion od enrching the agenda" at the next session.

Last modified: 03 Jul 2015 - © 2015 contributors
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