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Copyright debate carries on at WIPO in Geneva

I’M BACK in Geneva for the World Intellectual Property Organization's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights.

WIPO conference hall

So, the "informal session" that we civilians can listen to but not report has segued into a two-hour coffee break that we can't hear. A mostly-empty WIPO conference hall on 31 May 2018

Country representatives spent most of Monday and all of Tuesday debating a Treaty to give broadcasters rights to protect their signal from "piracy". This would be through granting a "neighbouring right" to copyright: another example of one of these is the right that music producers have in "master tapes". Delegates discussed this in an "informal session" which meant that we civilians could listen but not report anything.

The proposed Broadcasting Treaty

The Chair reported that they were closer to consensus.

The term of protection - how long it lasts - will be discussed later, when other matters are clearer: the Chair proposes to make it clear that 50 years, 20 years and other terms will be on the table.

Chile reports that they now have a single definition of "broadcasting" - possibly the most contentious issue, since some proposals would have extended the "neighbouring right" to practically everything on the internet. One country's representative clarifies privately that that part - extending the neighbouring right to material disseminated over the internet - is "still in play".

Theatre of the theatre

Russia is promoting a new right, alongside copyright, for theatre directors. This will be... interesting: there's a meeting promoting it at 08:30 which is a most untheatrical time.

Wednesday: exceptions to copyright

The Chair presented a "Draft Action Plan" on limitations and exceptions to copyright in general. It proposes further studies on existing law and other matters, and a conference on exceptions in general in the autumn of 2019.

The IFJ responded:

The International Federation of Journalists represents 600,000 journalists in 140 countries worldwide, North and South.

Looking for a moment to the Draft Action Plan, the IFJ appreciates the numerous references to involving "stakeholders" in discussions - but is disappointed that the only mention of who they may be is a reference to "publishers and consumers" participating in a brainstorming on libraries.

The IFJ reminds the Committee once more that without the dedication of professional authors and performers, publishers have nothing to publish, consumers have only amateur creations to consume, and libraries have little or nothing new to make available.

We welcome the contribution by Ecuador, representing GRULAC, noting that a balanced solution involves recognising the interests of creators. We agree with Lithuania and others that the best way forward is to share best practices.

It would be unfortunate to subsidise schools or libraries or archives at the expense of authors or performers - especially when new technology means that libraries effectively become publishers. Journalism in particular is fragile and under threat worldwide. In order to promote informed public debates and to represent the diversity of our cultures and political developments, journalists and other authors need your support - particularly in the global South.

An organisation has shown up calling itself the Authors Alliance but celebrating the joys of giving your work away. Information professionals interested in forming Librarians' Alliance please do get in touch...

Thursday: exceptions for education

Delegates discussed the Chair's proposal for an Action Plan of studies and conferences. Anti-authors'-rights lobbyists vented. The IFJ responded:

The International Federation of Journalists of course supports high-quality education for all. Of course there is self-interest here: interesting, high-quality journalism needs an educated audience; not to speak of educated journalists.

That means that the IFJ supports fully-funded education - though ensuring this funding is, sadly, outside the competence of this Committee.

The IFJ recognises the difficulties posed, in the global South in particular, by the price of research journals and some textbooks. We believe the solutions to this include flexible pricing.

The IFJ insists on the need for creators, including of course journalists, to be able to make a living independently in order to produce high-quality work worthy of a place in education.

A sustainable income for authors from our works is essential to maintaining independent. We ask delegates again to consider what would happen if, for example, schools were obliged to rely on works by authors who wanted to give their work away.

My own work as a journalist includes editing readers' letters pages. In this I am pursued by people who want to give their work away, and in my experience they divide into those with eccentric personal obsessions and those who are advancing a commercial interest.

We must defend independent authorship. Thank you.

For the avoidance of doubt, the above refers to those who pursue me - those who insist on their "right" to give their work away.

Delegates have gone into informal session again, to discuss the Action Plan. In the most general terms, those in favour of exceptions want to shorten it and those more supportive of authors and publishers believe further study is required.

Friday: exceptions again

At 11:30 delegates return from "informals" and the Chair reports they have consensus on a Draft Action Plan. It proposes three regional conferences to discuss exceptions to copyright building up to a worldwide conference to occur before the SCCR meeting in the autumn of 2019.

Artists' resale right (droit de suite)

Senegal and Congo have proposed discussion on a treaty making the right of visual artists to a small share of the price paid for their works apply worldwide. The African group and the EU strongly support this: indeed the spokesperson of the African group mentioned extending it to audiovisual works, but that may have been a mis-speak.

Egypt asked us to refer to "resale royalty right" and the Chair agrees.

Japan does not have a resale right and believes more research is required. And it continues to give priority to the Broadcasting Treaty. It asks, sensibly, why internet auctions are not included. The chair observes that the studies have been done. Also, the Chair has proposed an expert task force with participation by some member states.

The US agrees with Japan. It might support the Task Force given further clarification.

The Chair does not hear a strong push to put the matter on the formal agenda and is, oddly enough, in favour of a Task Force. Russia and Iran support the right; and also the Task Force.

An artist pointed to the role of a resale royalty right in providing a pension - an historic argument for the royalty system for book authors.

The IFJ commented:

The International Federation of Journalists urges all delegations to support the request by Senegal and Congo to make droit de suite a standing item on the agenda of this Committee.

We are heartened that we do hear, in the eloquent presentations by many delegates today, a growing international consensus that this is a case in which an international measure is absolutely required to give artists their due, wherever and however their works are re-sold, without loopholes.

The Chair sort-of-agrees but notes that there is not the required unanimity (so it cannot be on the standing agenda). So there shall be a Task Force, presenting an interim report in the autumn.

An analysis of copyright related to the digital environment

This is a proposal, originating from Brazil, for a wide-ranging review, that's been on the edge of the Committee for three years and remains there. Over coffee one of those speaking for it clarified that their belief is that the only way for authors and performers to get paid for online use is through collecting societies.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation came back after the discussion on theatre directors reported below to support a study but to argue - as is their wont - that such a study should lead to a weakening of copyright.

The International Federation of Actors (Fédération Internationale des Acteurs, FIA) supports a study of the effect of new (digital) distribution models. "Without performers, much of this content would not exist... most derive no benefit from the right of making-available and are obliged to sign buy-out contracts" that deprive them of income from digital use. FIA proposes two separate studies on the audio and audiovisual sectors.

The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) supports a study and claims that the weakening of educational authors' right to money from collecting societies in Canada led to an increase in spending - by whom, to whom? It certainly led to a catastrophic decrease in authors' income and a significant reduction in the number of titles published. They seek "a holistic approach to how authors benefit from the use of their works in libraries". The Knowledge Economy Institute asks that WIPO's Chief Economist be summoned to the autumn meeting of the Committee

Theatre of the theatre

Russia re-presented its proposal for a study to determine whether theatre directors should have rights to prevent unauthorised re-staging of their productions - in parallel to the rights in the scriept, the performances, the set, the music and so on. This might bean expansion of copyright, or a neighbouring right.

The Caucasus, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia - and South Africa - support this. Everyone else "would be glad to learn more". Senegal notes that it "would be useful to have a sound basis to understand the proposal". Japan believes that more study of existing measures is required.

China thanks Russia and supports its effort to continue studying this field; as, roughly, does Indonesia for the Asia-Pacific Group.

The Secretariat asked for more time to produce a timetable for such a study. This was agreed.

In conclusion: toward a Broadcasting Treaty

The Chair recommended that SCCR recommend to the WIPO General Assembly that it convene a Diplomatic Conference to thrash out a Broadcasting Treaty, as above. It looks as though all countries will agree, but see here for the formal outcome: I have to catch a plane.

The next meeting is on 26-30 November.