Blocking Wikimedia from becoming a WIPO observer is unacceptable

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All legitimate observers should be approved
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This week, the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) postponed a decision on the Wikimedia Foundation’s application to become an official observer of this organization. China raised concerns, at 61st series of meetings of the Assemblies of WIPO Member States, that the Wikimedia Foundation “has been carrying out political activities through its member organizations which could undermine the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The Wikimedia Foundation would need to provide further clarifications about the volunteer-led Wikimedia Taiwan chapter and about Wikimedia’s “Taiwan-related positions.” Discussion will resume at an extraordinary session of the General Assembly in early 2021.

This decision came as a shock to many observers of WIPO, since there has only been one case in recent memory where an observer status application to WIPO has not been accepted. In 2014, the Pirate Party International was rejected due to being a federation of political parties. As highlighted by the United States in its statement in support of Wikimedia Foundation’s application, “allowing the Wikimedia foundation to participate as an observer would be entirely consistent with the established precedent at WIPO of supporting other existing observers and Member States that also have some affiliation with Taiwan.”

According to Amanda Keton, General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation,

“(t)he objection by the Chinese delegation limits Wikimedia’s ability to engage with WIPO and interferes with the Foundation’s mission to strengthen access to free knowledge everywhere.”

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Open Letter to WIPO: Intellectual Property and COVID-19

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Public interest must prevail at time of crisis
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Today, Communia and a group of over 140 other organisations and individuals sent a letter to Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Francis Gurry, asking WIPO to ensure that intellectual property regimes support, and do not impede, efforts to both fighting the new Coronavirus outbreak and its consequences.

This diverse group representing researchers, educators, students, and the institutions that support them, acknowledges that a number of countries and some right holders have adopted exemplary measures in this context. These include measures to facilitate access to academic articles, research data, educational materials and other protected works, as well as medicines and medical devices that are subject to exclusive rights.

However, the signatories of the letter also believe that those measures alone are not enough, and that more actions are needed to ensure that the global intellectual property system prioritizes and promotes vital public interests at this critical moment.

Therefore, the signatories urge Mr. Gurry to use his position to guide the member states of WIPO and others in their response to intellectual property issues that the COVID-19 pandemic is raising, namely:

  • Encouraging all WIPO member states to take advantage of flexibilities in the international system that permit uses of intellectual property-protected works for online education, for research and experimental uses, and for vital public interests, such as access to medicine and culture;
  • Calling on all right holders to remove licensing restrictions that inhibit remote education, research (including for text and data mining and artificial intelligence projects) and access to culture, including across borders, both to help address the global pandemic, and in order to minimise the disruption caused by it;
  • Supporting the call by Costa Rica for the World Health Organization to create a global pool of rights in COVID-19 related technology and data, as well as promoting the use of the Medicines Patents Pool, voluntary licensing, intellectual property pledges, compulsory licensing, use of competition laws, and other measures to eliminate barriers to the competitive global manufacture, distribution and sale of potentially effective products to detect, prevent, and treat COVID-19.
  • Supporting countries’ rights to enact and use exceptions to trade secret and other intellectual property rights needed to facilitate greater access to manufacturing information, cell lines, confidential business information, data, software, product blueprints, manufacturing processes, and other subject matter needed to achieve universal and equitable access to COVID-19 medicines and medical technologies as soon as reasonably possible.

You can read the full letter here (PDF). You are welcome to endorse the letter here.

Update 7 April: the letter has been endorsed by more than 400 organisations and individuals in 45 countries. You can see the full list of signatories here.

Update 16 April: the letter has been endorsed by 149 organizations and 359 individuals. The listed organizations represent more than 32.5 million educators, 2.5 million libraries and archives, 45,000 museums, and 200 copyright scholars in 199 countries.

What we hope for WIPO under new leadership: neutrality, fairness, and transparency

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Improve the quality of policy making at WIPO
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Last week, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) nominated a new Director General, Daren Tang, who will assume the post on 1 October 2020. Tang is currently the Chief Executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore and has served as the Chair of WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) for the past six bi-annual meetings of the committee. 

A growing number of civil society organizations working on copyright reform, including Communia and its members Wikimedia and Creative Commons, participate as permanent observers in the SCCR, for the committee addresses several important issues in the field of copyright. This includes a potential new treaty for the protection of broadcasting organizations; exceptions and limitations to copyright for libraries, museums, archives, educational and research institutions, and persons with other disabilities; and the broader topic of copyright and the changing digital environment. 

WIPO has the potential to affect norm setting in a variety of topics in the field of copyright, not only those currently discussed in the SCCR, but also others that WIPO may introduce via its training and capacity-building activities. In fact, although WIPO is a member state-driven institution and only its 192 country members can decide on the adoption of binding legal instruments or soft laws, the Director General and his senior management team can influence the direction of national law and policy reforms in developing countries through the organization’s technical assistance program.

The impact of the WIPO Secretariat on the work of the copyright committee

The WIPO Secretariat also has a significant impact on the work of the SCCR. In the past year, we have witnessed that it is fairly easy to prejudge the outcomes of an Action Plan on Limitations and Exceptions adopted by the WIPO member states if the WIPO Secretariat carries out the activities foreseen in such a plan in a manner that puts an over-emphasis on the private interests of copyright owners to the detriment of the public interests related with access to knowledge and education. 

Regional events intended to identify “areas for action with respect to the limitations and exceptions regime” can easily be turned into lobbying platforms for copyright owners, if ill-designed. Would-be beneficiaries of the limitations and exceptions regime can easily be prevented from sharing their experiences in such events in a structured manner, if no formal speaking roles are given to them. Furthermore, an international conference intended to discuss limitations and exceptions for cultural heritage and educational and research institutions can be organized in such a manner that the panels are dominated by rights holders and collective management organizations, preventing a fair and balanced discussion on the issues at hand. Continue reading

SCCR/38: Communia General Statement on Exceptions and Limitations

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Minimum access and use rights should be defined by public rules
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In our capacity of permanent observers of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), we are attending the 38th session of the Committee, which is taking place in Geneva from 1 to 5 April 2019.

The following is the general statement made today by Teresa Nobre on Limitations and Exceptions (Agenda Items 7 and 8):

I’m speaking on behalf of COMMUNIA, an international association that works to protect and strengthen the public domain and users’ rights.

We believe that there is a minimum set of access and use rights that should be defined by public rules, since they are justified by public interests. If copyright laws do not grant to the education and research communities, the cultural heritage institutions, and the persons with disabilities the same level of protection that is granted to rightsholders, and defer to private agreements the regulation of all uses of copyrighted materials, they perpetuate an unbalanced power structure and let rightsholders weaken or undermine what should be a public policy decision.

Private agreements are important in any market, but they should coexist with – and not replace – exceptions. Agreements are not appropriate to harmonize the legal framework for uses of copyrighted works, because the terms and conditions of licenses vary widely, and they are not available for every material in every country. There are countless copyrighted works in existence and the large majority of creators is not interested in licensing their works (only a small class of professional creators is offering their works for licensing). Thus, it is impossible to offer meaningful solutions to users through private agreements only.

In order to have a minimum set of rules that are applied uniformly by every Member State and have a cross-border effect we need an international law.

The ongoing reform in the European Union should be enough for this forum to understand that agreeing on minimum standards is possible, while still taking into account local specificities.

Thank you.

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2019 will be a busy year for user rights’ advocates at WIPO

Public interest advocates at WIPO SCCR/38, Geneva, November 2018
We are ready for another year, fighting the good fight!
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In the age of connectivity, it is not enough to fight for better copyright laws for users in certain regions of the world. We need to advocate for baseline international standards that allow cross-border uses of copyrighted materials, for purposes such as access to knowledge and education, in each and every country of the world. That is why public interest advocates, Communia included, keep investing their energies in the international discussions on copyright exceptions, using their capacities of permanent observers of the WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR).

The SCCR has a mandate to discuss, among other things, limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries, museums, archives, persons with disabilities, and for educational and research activities. In June 2018, the Committee adopted Action Plans on Limitations and Exceptions, which include a series of events dedicated to analyze the situation of libraries, archives, museums, education and research, and to identify “areas for action with respect to the limitations and exceptions regime”. If planned correctly, with the main purpose to assess the needs of the potential beneficiaries of the exceptions, these events could advance the international agenda on copyright exceptions.

2019: regional seminars on copyright exceptions  

In order to fulfil the Action Plan on L&E, and in addition to the two bi-annual meetings (Geneva, 1-5 April and 21-25 October), the SCCR will host in 2019 a) three regional seminars on limitations and exceptions in Asia-Pacific (Singapore, 29-30 April, to be announced), Africa (Kenya, 12-13 June, TBA) and Latin-America (Dominican Republic, 4-5 July, TBA); and b) an international conference on exceptions and limitations (Geneva, 17-18 October). Continue reading