Communia supports the WTO TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19

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Supporting an equitable response to emergencies
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Today, Communia and a group of over 100 organisations and more than 150 academics and experts issued a statement calling for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily suspend its rules on intellectual property where needed to support the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.

This diverse group representing researchers, educators, students, information users, and the institutions that support them, urges all WTO Members to endorse the TRIPS waiver proposal presented by India and South Africa, including provisions that address “the copyright barriers to the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19”.

All over the world, educational institutions, research organizations and cultural heritage institutions have been forced into closure as a non-pharmaceutical measure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the majority of national copyright laws in all the continents have no elasticity to cover educational, research and public interest activities that need to take place remotely during the periods when the physical premises of those institutions are closed due to emergencies that fundamentally disrupt the normal organization of society, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, as pointed out in the statement, “(i)n too many countries, researchers lack the rights they need to use the most advanced research methodologies, such as text and data mining, to help find and develop treatments to COVID-19.”

The fact that copyright laws are not able to support these activities constitutes a barrier to an equitable response to COVID-19, and it shows that these laws cannot be deemed to have properly internalized the fundamental rights to freedom of information, freedom of science and education. 

Therefore, the signatories call for urgent action to clarify that all copyright and related rights treaties, including the copyright provisions of the TRIPS Agreement:

  • Can and should be interpreted and implemented to respect the primacy of human rights obligations during the pandemic and other emergencies, including the rights to seek, receive and impart information, to education, and to freely participate in cultural life and share in scientific advancement and its benefits, while protecting the moral and material interests of authors;
  • Permit governments to protect and promote vital public interests during a health or other emergency; 
  • Permit governments to carry forward and appropriately extend into the digital environment limitations and exceptions that are appropriate in the digital network environment, particularly during a health or other emergency. 

You can read the full statement here

Communia fights for more room for right to research in international copyright law

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Promoting access to knowledge for all
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Access to knowledge is essential to ensure inclusivity and equality of our societies, particularly in the digital age. Researchers and the institutions that serve them are struggling to perform their activities at a distance, due to outdated copyright frameworks that do not properly balance all the rights that are deemed fundamental to our societies. It is time to abandon the rhetoric that copyright exceptions that support access to knowledge activities will harm authors and the industries that depend on them. 

For the next three years, Communia will be working on a project to study and promote changes in international copyright law to ensure equity in the production of and access to research. Our aim is to promote effective change in the political discourse towards the adoption of an international legal framework that protects legitimate access to knowledge.

We will work with a broad range of partners representing researchers and the institutions that serve them, including our Communia members Creative Commons and Wikimedia Deutschland. Our activities will include producing research, provide training to a global network of change makers, and connect a global expert network to a global community of researchers, libraries, museums, archives, and digital rights activists active in international copyright policy making.

The project will be run by the American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL), through its Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP), and will benefit from a grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

Read more about the project here.

Copyright and COVID-19: Has WIPO learned nothing from the pandemic?

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It's time to put our differences aside
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In November, Communia participated in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 40th session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), the most important forum at the global level for copyright rulemaking. Due to the pandemic, this was the first time the Committee met this year, and the meeting took place in a hybrid format, with most of the delegations participating through online means. 

Our expectations for this meeting were high. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown, more clearly than ever, that copyright can stand in the way of schools, libraries and cultural heritage institutions properly operating. Copyright exceptions that permit these public interest activities still do not exist everywhere. Moreover, exceptions do not always apply regardless of whether activities are conducted on site or at a distance (digitally).

Communia and other civil society observers were expecting the Committee to consider the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these public interest activities, and take appropriate action. However, WIPO member states had previously decided that, due to the format of the meeting, they would not engage in negotiations on any of the items on their agenda. Therefore, despite references to the problems caused by the pandemic in several Delegations’ statements, none put forward any proposal to deal with these issues.

Exceptions and limitations: shouldn’t we be there yet?

As explained in Communia’s statement to the Committee and highlighted by numerous WIPO-commissioned studies, WIPO member states are well aware that exceptions (notably the education and research exceptions) that exist today do not always have the elasticity to cover activities that take place remotely. More importantly, WIPO member states know that only an international instrument can solve the cross border aspects of distance activities, when the application of multiple national laws is triggered.

Progress on the topic of copyright exceptions has been limited for a number of years now. The only notable exception has been the Marrakesh Treaty, which establishes a mandatory exception for the benefit of persons who are blind, visually or otherwise print-disabled. Discussions on an international legal framework to cover a minimum set of legitimate uses made by persons with other disabilities, by educators, learners and researchers, and by libraries, archives and museums, have been diverted time and time again. 

With the pandemic, this state of affairs is even less acceptable than it was before. Before we were already seeing a trend towards digital and cross-border access and use of copyrighted materials for educational, research and other public interest purposes. Yet, WIPO member states could justify their inaction by telling themselves that these uses were not significant. 

However, in a few months, distance activities became the new normal. Now, institutions all over the world are opting for remote formats or hybrid models of in-person and online education, research and access to the collections of cultural heritage institutions. And we may never go back to the way things were before.Continue reading