Civil society organisations urge WIPO Member States to admit Wikimedia as an observer

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Today, 55 civil society organizations, including COMMUNIA, sent a letter to the Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization to express their concerns with regard to the outcome of the sixty-second series of meetings of the Assemblies of the Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization, not to admit the Wikimedia Foundation as an observer to that organization.

The signatories of the letter recall that the WIPO discussions, where norm setting in copyright is concerned, are of utmost important to access to knowledge organisations:

“Given the key role of WIPO in shaping normative and practical work around copyright that impacts how researchers, educators and the public at large access and use knowledge, not admitting the Foundation as an observer would be unacceptable and it would run counter with the established practice on criteria for admission of observers at WIPO.”

This is the second time the application of the Wikimedia Foundation for observer status at WIPO was not approved. China was again the only country to reject the Foundation’s application, suggesting that the Wikimedia Foundation was spreading misinformation via the Wikimedia Taiwan chapter. The United States expressed their support for the Foundation’s application, calling for a transparent process, accessible for civil society organizations. The regional coordinator for Group B (the group of industrialized countries at WIPO, which includes many European Union member states) followed suit, underlining that the Foundation’ application had complied with the admission criteria.

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SCCR/41: COMMUNIA Statement on Limitations and Exceptions

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How can a country solve this issue alone?
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This week COMMUNIA is attending the 41st session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), in its observer capacity.

This is the second time the Committee meets since the beginning of the pandemic. In November last year, we urged the Committee to take appropriate action to respond to the massive disruption to education, research and other public interest activities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, no Delegations put forward any proposal, and we left the SCCR disappointed at WIPO’s inaction in the face of this global crisis. 

Today, most Delegations expressed their agreement to a proposal to hold a number of regional consultations “to further develop the understanding of the situation of the cultural and educational and research institutions at the local level, especially in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on them”. Furthermore, a proposal by the Asia-Pacific Group, to hold an informational session at the next SCCR on the impact of COVID-19 on all the beneficiaries of the copyright system, was also well received.

Global South countries insisted, nevertheless, that the next steps for the agenda items on limitations and exceptions to copyright should not be limited to those consultations and information sessions. Many Delegations recalled the 2012 mandate to work towards “an appropriate international legal instrument”, and urged the Committee to set a work plan to fulfill the mandate.

The following is the statement made on behalf of COMMUNIA on the agenda item on limitations and exceptions for educational and research institutions and for persons with other disabilities (Agenda Item 7):

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SCCR/41: COMMUNIA Statement on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations

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Again: no rights without exceptions!
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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 41st session of the Committee, which is taking place in a hybrid format of in-person and online participation from 28 June and 1 July 2021.

The first day of the event was dedicated to discuss the protection of broadcasting organizations, and several delegations shared their dissatisfaction with the fact that informal discussions on the text of the draft broadcast treaty had taken place without ensuring the participation of a diversity of delegations. The SCCR Chair invited to these meetings only to the so-called “Friends of the Chair”, which include Argentina, Colombia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, and the United States of America. Civil society observers joined Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, South Africa and Chile in their ask for greater transparency and inclusivity.

The following is the statement made on behalf of COMMUNIA on this agenda item (Agenda Item 5):

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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

SCCR/40: COMMUNIA Statement on Limitations and Exceptions

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15 years and a pandemic later: are we there yet?
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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 40th session of the Committee, which is taking place in a hybrid format of in-person and online participation from 16 to 20 November 2020.

The following is the statement made on behalf of Communia on limitations and exceptions for educational and research institutions and for persons with other disabilities (Agenda Item 7):

This Committee has been discussing the issue of copyright exceptions for almost 15 years. During this time, a number of studies were conducted and we learned that many countries fail to guarantee the right to use protected content for education, research and other legitimate purposes.

Still, reaching a common ground for exceptions was not a priority for all. Progress was limited even though we were seeing a clear trend towards cross-border uses, taking place online. 

Now, that state of affairs could be acceptable before the massive disruption to society caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But over the last six months those cross-border online uses have become the new normal. 

All over the world, institutions are opting for remote formats or hybrid models of in-person and online access and use of content. And we may never go back to the way things were, namely for education, where we now have teachers and students working from home, often located in different Member States, and having to deal with a fragmented treatment of exceptions across those locations.

We understand that Northern countries prefer to negotiate bilaterally with developing countries. In our opinion, this perpetuates an unbalanced power relationship between the Global North and the Global South.

This forum can provide more transparency and legitimacy to these discussions. We thus urge you to not leave your mandate unfulfilled. 

In the Report on Regional Seminars and International Conference on Limitations and Exceptions, prepared by the Secretariat, we can find something for everyone’s taste. Now it’s up to this Committee to set priorities for its work. 

We urge the Committee to respond to the pandemic with a declaration or resolution to assert the flexibilities that exist; then work on model laws and on a binding solution for cross-border uses; and eventually discuss a minimum set of mandatory exceptions.

Thank you.

SCCR/40: COMMUNIA Statement on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations

Parisiens en train d'etudier la question turque
No perpetual rights, no rights without exceptions!
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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 40th session of the Committee, which is taking place in a hybrid format of in-person and online participation from 16 to 20 November 2020.

The following is the statement made on behalf of Communia on the protection of broadcasting organizations (Agenda Item 5):

We understand that the draft of the Broadcasting Treaty gives broadcasters perpetual rights over public domain and freely licensed content, which is extremely problematic for users. 

Without this extra layer of rights, these works can be used without restriction, and this freedom should be maintained. 

In addition, we are concerned that the current proposal for exceptions only gives countries the option to extend already existing exceptions to broadcasting signals. Obviously, countries can choose not to exercise that option, and if they opt not to, the Treaty will be creating new obstacles to access to culture and information. 

Exceptions are essential to achieve a balance between the interests of the broadcasting organizations and the public interest. The vision that supra-national instruments should only mandate the introduction of new rights, without imposing adequate exceptions, is outdated and turns a blind eye to the fact that copyright can prevent the exercise of fundamental freedoms. 

It is about time for this Committee to align itself with the knowledge produced by its academics and by its courts, which have over and over again referred to the need for a balanced view of copyright.

The Treaty should include a broad provision like the one contained in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which makes it mandatory for each Party to provide an appropriate balance in its copyright system, including by means of exceptions for legitimate purposes. In addition, it should have a minimum set of mandatory exceptions, namely for the uses already required by other copyright treaties.

Thank you.

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.