Mercosur-EU Free Trade Agreement: a bad deal for the public domain

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Stop the secret erosion of the Public Domain
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Contrary to what the negotiating parties expected (and what many civil societies organizations feared), the Mercosur-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was not signed during the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference that took place at the beginning of December in Buenos Aires. Thus, the signing of the FTA that has been negotiated for almost twenty years was postponed once again. Over this time the negotiations were frozen during the era of the leftist governments in South America, but regained speed after the arrival of neoliberal governments to Brazil and Argentina.

Like many other multilateral agreements that have been negotiated in recent years (TPP, TTIP, etc.), the Mercosur-EU FTA covers a large number of areas (not all strictly related to trade) ranging from the exchange of goods to capital movements, phytosanitary measures, electronic commerce and intellectual property (IP). The area of ​​negotiation related to IP is extremely broad, including patents, trademarks, geographical indications and copyright, among other topics.

From TRIPS to TRIPS Plus

In most of the issues related to IP, the Mercosur-EU FTA goes beyond the international obligations imposed on the countries in 1994 with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in the context of the creation of the World Trade Organization. TRIPS established a minimum regulatory floor on IP that forced a large number of countries, including those of the Mercosur, to modify their laws, establishing restrictions on the circulation of knowledge and negatively affecting the public domain. In the field of copyright, TRIPS established a minimum copyright term of the author’s life plus 50 years, meaning that countries like Uruguay, which at that time had a term of only 40 years, was a major change. TRIPS also forced the countries to establish criminal penalties for IP infringements conducted on a commercial scale, as well as to protect software using the same regulatory framework as that applied to literary works. While some of these measures were already established in the Berne Convention and other treaties administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization, TRIPS stipulated economic sanctions for countries that did not comply with the obligations, which resulted in rapid adaptation to a new regulatory framework. Continue reading

The defense of education at the World Intellectual Property Organization

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Fighting for minimum international standards!
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As we reported last month, Communia attended the 35th session of WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), which took place from 13 – 17 November in Geneva. The SCCR has a mandate to discuss limitations and exceptions to copyright, including for educational purposes. While Communia supports efforts to reach minimum international standards of exceptions and limitations to copyright in all the different areas that are currently under discussion (libraries, museums, archives, persons with disabilities, and education), our role there is specifically to support the dialogue on educational exceptions.

Why is it important to have baseline international standards?  

First, it’s a question of educational equity. The different treatments of education by copyright laws all over the world result in huge discrepancies in the way education is provided, thus increasing the inequality in educational outcomes. Educators in countries with none or poorly designed education exceptions have to be extremely careful when selecting the teaching materials they will use in educational activities or they can risk civil and criminal action for copyright infringement. Meanwhile, in countries that have strong, well-drafted copyright exceptions, teachers have the freedom to choose and use whichever materials they feel are most adequate for their instructional activities.Continue reading

SCCR/35 Communia statement on limitations and exceptions for education

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In our capacity of permanent observers of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, we are attending the 35th session of the Committee, which is taking place in Geneva from 13 to 17 November 2017.

The following is the statement made by Teresa Nobre on our behalf on agenda item 7: Limitations and exceptions for educational and research institutions and for persons with other disabilities.

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Can Open Education succeed without copyright reform? Reflections from UNESCO 2nd World OER Congress.

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OER policy and copyright reform go hand in hand
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Between 18-20 September we travelled to Ljubljana to attend the 2nd World Open Educational Resources Congress, organized by UNESCO. Our aim was to raise awareness about educational exceptions as complementary means for achieving the goals of Open Education.

Unfortunately, the new Ljubljana OER Action Plan, adopted by UNESCO members at the Congress, does not include actions related to copyright reform. We will continue working with the UNESCO OER policy community to change this.

Educational exceptions, and other issues related to how copyright law regulates education, have traditionally not been considered by the OER stakeholders. The Paris OER Declaration, which was the result of the first UNESCO OER Congress in 2012, failed to see educational exceptions as means of facilitating use and reuse of resources in education.

Our session, titled “Right Copyright for Education Worldwide” aimed to raise awareness about the importance of copyright law, and encourage OER stakeholders to get involved in copyright reform processes around the world. The session was organized in co-operation with the Slovenian Intellectual Property Institute.

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Support Diego Gómez, prosecuted for sharing academic research

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Diego Gómez is a Colombian student who for the last three years has been prosecuted for sharing an academic paper online. He faces criminal charges – up to eight years in prison. Diego’s story is a symbol of a broken copyright system that becomes a barrier to research and education. And at times simply hurts people.

Last month, Diego was cleared of charges by the Bogotá Circuit Criminal Court. Yet only three weeks later the author of the paper, who in 2013 informed authorities and pressed charges, appealed the decision. The case, which has been ongoing for 4 years, will therefore continue in the appellate court. And Diego can still go to jail for sharing knowledge.

Diego is being supported by Fundación Karisma, the Colombian digital rights organisation. Karisma has launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to pay for legal expenses. As Communia, we are supporting the campaign and helping raise $40,000 for this case. Please consider joining the Compartir no es delito: Sharing Is Not A Crime campaign. It is time to end an unfair case that has been a burden for Diego for the last four years.Continue reading

Why Australian Schools Need Fair Use

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Australia on getting a better copyright for education
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It is Fair Use week, and we have a special guest author sharing about a copyright debate that is considering implementing Fair Use: Delia Browne is National Copyright Director of the Australian National Copyright Unit (Schools and TAFEs). Australia is in the process of re-evaluating its copyright law, including the rules regarding education. The Australian reform offers interesting parallels with the actions in the European Union. We can only wish that a debate on flexible copyright norm was taking place also in Europe.

Like almost all nations, education is crucial to the future economic and social well-being of Australia. These are exciting times for education, but the benefits of the digital era will not be fully realised in our classrooms unless greater flexibility is introduced into our copyright laws. The rules around copyright were designed in the age of the photocopier; these are not working in the age of the iPad and the 3D printer, and are holding back innovation in schools.

The current system isn’t working

Copyright reform is a significant issue for Australian schools, as Australia’s outdated copyright laws currently stand in the way of teachers using the most modern teaching methods in the interests of Australian students. For example: Continue reading

Clear statement from educational sector: we need a better copyright reform

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We need to fix copyright for education
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Yesterday COMMUNIA sent a joint letter to MEPs working on the copyright reform dossier. It is supported by 34 organisations and 17 individuals, all advocates of quality education. In the letter we note our concerns on the phrasing of a new education exception to copyright, as included in the proposal for a directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market.

You can find the full letter, including signatories here. 

We believe that educators should be provided with the autonomy necessary for them to give the best possible learning opportunities for students, and that students and other learners should have the freedom required for effective independent learning. The choice of resources that an educator uses should only be dependent on the need they see in their students. The current proposal from the European Commission does not meet these requirements. There however changes possible to the proposed directive that will create a copyright that supports education.

We have shared three concrete recommendations:

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The Delhi University case: equity in education more important than copyrights

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"Copyright is not a divine or natural right"
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As the copyright reform process continues in Europe, it is worth noting the result of an Indian case concerning photocopying and the extent of the educational exception. In 2012, Delhi University and a small photocopy shop named Rameshwari Photocopy Service were sued by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses together with the Taylor & Francis Group. The publishers alleged that the photocopying of substantial excerpts from their publications and issuing or selling them in course packs infringed their copyrights. They also argued that Delhi University should obtain a license from the Indian Reprographic Rights Organization in order to make the copies.

Publishers lost both the initial court case and the appeal. In what can be seen as a landmark case, the court provided an expansive interpretation of the Indian educational copyright exception. It highlighted issues of educational equity as a central feature of the decision. The Delhi University case is worth considering as we debate copyright and education in Europe. In the ongoing reform, we should focus our efforts on advocating for what a well-functioning education ecosystem requires to promote successful teaching and learning, and less on protecting publishers’ licensing solutions.Continue reading

Ansip is forgetting about important parts of education

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Leaving important educational players behind
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On his blog just before Christmas, Vice President Ansip made a case for a simple copyright law for education to help Europe’s teachers and students. While we can only support a simple copyright law that supports education instead of making it harder for educators to teach, the Commission did not propose such a solution in the directive. The Commission has limited the new exception to official ‘educational establishments’ and has written a preference for licenses over the exception in the text. By doing so they are leaving important parts of education behind.

Leaving important players behind

Ansip writes about the important transition from solely physical education to embracing digital technologies. In the process, the patchwork of exceptions to copyright for educational purposes across Europe blocks much innovation in education:

Unfortunately, there are many differences around Europe in how these exceptions are applied, especially when it comes to using copyright-protected material in digital or online teaching activities.

Digital technologies are transforming the teaching and learning environment. They are being used more and more throughout education: laptops in the classroom to show video clips, interactive whiteboards to display webpages, for example.

But current EU law does not properly address digital’s significant presence and influence in the learning environment. It needs to catch up.

This makes it strange that the Commission’s definition of ‘learning environment’ is so limited to official educational establishments in the proposed directive. Education is understood today as a lifelong process that is conducted by a multitude of institutions, and even learners themselves. This was noted in the Commission Communication ”Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality” and the subsequent Council Resolution of 27 June 2002 on lifelong learning. Yet, when defining copyright law, the European Commission fails to embrace its own lifelong learning approach by limiting the potential beneficiaries of the proposed exception to ‘educational establishments’. 

In doing so, the proposed exception will leave unharmonised the digital uses for educational purposes made by other individuals and organisations, such as the great value that museums, libraries, archives, professional associations, and civil society organisations give to education. Think for example of education about the dangers of drugs that civil society organisations provide for teenagers, or the great educational programmes of libraries that help Europeans embrace their local culture. This limitation would also exclude employees, apprenticeships and practical learning as vocational education at their company, which is a key part of Europe’s lifelong learning goal.

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Communia at WIPO: copyright needs to empower teaching and learning

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Fixing copyright at WIPO
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The bi-annual meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) took place last week in Geneva. Teresa Nobre and Alek Tarkowski participated in the meeting on behalf of Communia, which has observer status. We were particularly interested in the debate on exceptions for education.

As Communia, we have until now focused our policy work on the European Union (albeit we were present at WIPO, as observers, briefly for debates on the public domain in 2012). We decided to start attending SCCR meetings in order to address the issue of good copyright for education also at global level. We hope that we can contribute to set out a global education exception.

In Geneva, we joined a broad coalition of civil society organizations and groups, and representatives of public interest institutions such as libraries or archives that have been participating in these meetings. Our particular focus is on education, an issue that until now has not been strongly represented by civil society observers at WIPO. We are hoping to change this situation. Delia Browne, who represented Creative Commons as a representative of Creative Commons Australia, joined us at the meeting.

The issue of exceptions and limitations to copyright has been on the WIPO agenda for years. In 2013, the Marrakesh Treaty was signed, requiring all WIPO members to provide a domestic copyright exception that allows the creation of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works for visually impaired persons. The exception secured by the treaty is an important win, and a clear evidence that a global copyright standard that supports public interest can be established through the WIPO process.Continue reading