Copyright debate trundles on in Geneva and Brussels

THERE ARE some encouraging signs on international policy on authors' rights. The World Intellectual Property Organization is the United Nations body responsible for these and twice a year 200-odd diplomats gather in Geneva for its Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. The biggest item on its agenda in recent years has been a push to widen "exceptions" that permit use of works protected by authors' rights and copyright for the benefit of schools, colleges, libraries, museums and archives.

This has been promoted by Latin American countries, perhaps largely motivated by the huge cost in local terms of academic journals and law books. Brazil showed a change in emphasis on 15 November by saying that it makes no sense to improve access to knowledge if there are no incentives for the production of knowledge. It supports work on a treaty to put these exceptions into international law: but decisions can only be taken when all countries concur, and the US and the European Union do not support such a treaty.

The International Federation of Journalists introduced its remarks on this by noting that it represents 600,000 journalists in 140 countries worldwide, North and South. It recognises the importance of libraries and archives and museums.

The IFJ notes, too, the number of delegations referring to the needs of the digital environment. One feature of that is that libraries and archives in effect act as publishers, making their holdings available off-site. As its representative I noted that "some countries whose citizens must pay higher prices in local terms are seeking to flood their own market with my works, distributed without payment to me - which causes rather more damage to authors working in their own culture and language than it does to me. Supporting a diversity of authorship is essential, and that means fair remuneration for authors when our works are made available to the public."

Back in 2015 Brazil proposed a strand of discussion in the Committee on copyright in the digital environment. At this meeting a significant portion of Brazil's introduction of the proposal called for transparency over what money for use of copyright works ends up where. We had a presentation from Professor Jane Ginsburg on the "value chain" through which payment reaches authors and performers - or doesn't. There was a most interesting exchange between Brazil and the Professor, with both speaking warmly of the proposals on transparency in the European Union's draft Directive to amend the law on copyright.

The IFJ reminded delegates that exploiters of copyright frequently do not understand the contracts which they "offer" journalists and that when those that are agile and flexible are asked what rights they need, they frequently reconsider. Professor Ginsburg agreed, and that gives her optimism for the future.