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World Intellectual Property Organization: Discussion on Possible Treaty That Would Affect Education

The 24th meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) is taking place in Geneva from July 16 to July 25, 2012 to discuss three international treaties on copyright exceptions and limitations.  The SSCR is a subcommittee of WIPO whose mandate is to foster discussion surrounding the establishment of standards for exceptions and limitations on copyright.  WIPO, known for its pro-rights holder inclination, is devoting much of its current meeting to advance balanced international copyright law.  The agenda  addresses three areas – educational and research institutions, the visually impaired, and libraries and archives.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) blog details the history of the proceedings leading to the discussions at the current meeting.

The international negotiation process is usually long and often cumbersome as the 185 WIPO Member States submit proposed treaty language that often represents widely varying viewpoints on the topic depending from which region of the world a country is situated.  The debate can be contentious, often secretive, and consensus-building and decision-making are multi-year processes.

While issues surrounding exceptions and limitations for the visually impaired and for libraries and archives have been on previous meeting agendas, this is the first meeting where exceptions and limitations for educational and research institutions that might result in some sort of international agreement have been discussed.   This exception and limitation is likely to be a hot topic as open educational resources and other digital technologies become more central to teaching and learning and as geographic boundaries dissolve.  Therefore preserving rights to online collaboration, access to, and use of educational resources is crucial, especially as the market for these digital tools and business interests are increasing.

All official documents submitted by Member States and meeting webcasts can be found on the SSCR website.  Other interested parties (e.g., library organizations, civil societies, etc.) often attend the meetings as observers and can submit statements and recommendations.   An international coalition of civil societies has issued such a statement on the education exception.  A key concern expressed is:

“To date however, international harmonization efforts have largely focused on one side of the equation: the rights of authors and rightsholders.  If balance is truly to be achieved, it is imperative that the rights of those who wish to use copyrighted works for education, research, and access to information be placed on an equal footing.  Only this will allow the copyright system to serve the larger public interest.”

The twelve recommendations, which speak strongly in support of the copyright exceptions and limitations, are designed to promote the public interest and to ensure access to quality education.  For our campus communities, these are well worth a read and in the global environment the WIPO negotiations should be on our radar screens.

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on this issue.

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