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At WIPO, Study On Copyright Exceptions Stimulates Broad Discussion With Author

by Prasad Krishna last modified Dec 27, 2014 02:33 PM
During the recent meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization copyright committee, a study was presented on exceptions and limitations to copyright for libraries and archives at the national level. The presentation spurred a full day of discussion about how to ensure libraries can continue to provide an indispensable service, and a substantive exchange with the author.

The article by Catherine Saez was published in Intellectual Property Watch on December 18, 2014

The 29th session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) took place from 8-12 December.

On 10 December, Kenneth Crews, former director of the copyright advisory office at Columbia University and now in the private sector, presented an update [pdf] of his 2008 WIPO-commissioned study on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries and Archives (IPW, WIPO, 12 December 2014).

The study provided safe ground for broad discussions on the sensitive issue of exceptions and limitations, and the role of WIPO in the issue, with a large number of countries taking the floor to offer comments on the study and its findings, providing specific details on their own legislation and/or asking questions.


Mexico, for example, asked whether there was a general movement leading to a harmonisation exercise in international copyright law.

Crews answered there was no movement toward an era of harmonisation, but harmonisation could be an answer in the field of limitations and exceptions if it left sufficient policy space to countries.

On the one hand, he said, “there is virtue in harmonisation, in allowing for the predictability of the law … as your business activities move from one country to another.” It makes the law easier to understand, and easier to address some of the issues of cross-border exchange..,” he said.

But the major disadvantage of harmonisation would be the loss of opportunity for countries to “experiment, test new ideas in lawmaking, and to move in some new directions,” he added.

Maybe the answer lies in the middle, said Crews: harmonise the law to a certain extent, “and then leave some of the details to individual countries.”

The European Union delegate remarked that even in an integrated legal system such as the EU, very few exceptions to copyright are mandatory for EU members. Member states “remain free to implement most of the exceptions in the EU legislation in their national systems,” he said.

Implementation Issues

Tunisia stressed the issue of the implementation of copyright exceptions and limitations in developing countries, particularly for libraries. Libraries often are “fearful of the complications,” referring to the exceptions and limitations legislation, and simply do not use it, preferring “what is possible and available,” he said

Crews said it is important to find “the right formula” for drafting a statute that is detailed enough that users are law-abiding citizens, “and at the same time not be so complicated in the structure of the law that it is difficult or impractical for most – even trained professionals – to follow.”

Cross-Border Exchange, TPMs

Brazil said the study sheds light on certain areas where further cooperation would be welcome. The Brazilian delegate said this cooperation could take into account the dynamic evolution of digital technologies and the “growing cross-border cooperation among libraries and archives.”

The delegate said some factors pose concrete problems for cross-border cooperation, such as the fact that some 33 WIPO members do not provide exceptions for libraries, and a higher number of countries do not provide exceptions and limitations that “could be deemed adequate” to address the new challenges created by the digital environment, and limitations and exceptions provided by national legislation vary deeply from country to country.

Now that the research has started with the 2008 report has been updated, we can see that from the universe of the WIPO membership 33 countries still do not provide limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives in their national legislation. A even greater number of WIPO members do not seem to provide limitations and exceptions that could be deemed adequate in order to address the new challenges libraries and archives increasingly face with the emergence of the digital environment

He also said the study states that technological protection measures (TPM) can have a negative impact on countries’ ability to “legitimately implement exceptions and limitations,” which is a “growing concern as countries seek to better regulate and avoid abuses in the use of TPMs.”

Crews said the issue of cross-border activity and the difficulty in cooperation between countries induced by the difference in laws is perhaps one of the most important that WIPO could address. Part of the solution to that problem might be a trusted third party facilitating the transfer of copyrighted works, he said. A sharing of resources should be allowed while protecting the interest of right-holders, he said, “so that they can participate in this and encourage this activity as well.”

Many developing countries keep insisting that the major issue for libraries and archives is the digital era. The digital revolution “has barely begun,” Crews said. “The transformation of technology and the way we communicate and the way we share information is only beginning, so it is important not to prescribe exact details, but … to take some steps to open up the issue,” he said.

Chile also underlined the fact that the study showed a low number of countries providing exceptions for interlibrary loans.

According to Crews, using licences for cross-border activities is limited to the countries which the licence covers. The risks of having licences as a solution to cross-border exchange is that “it leaves the terms to private negotiations,” and many countries might not have laws on licensing.

Licensing Agreements

Sweden said the country has a dual system: “traditional limitations” in the law or preservation and replacement, for example, and a licensing agreement system. The two systems run side-by-side smoothly, he said.

Crews said that the licensing agreement system is not adaptable to all countries. “There are many reasons why it has not been adopted” in some countries, he said, adding, “I would express some concern about requiring it as an international matter.”

The European Union said exceptions and limitations and licences often coexist well. Those licences are often collectively negotiated, said the EU delegate, and sometimes cover broader uses than the exceptions themselves.

Crews said conceptually in the law-making process, countries need to reckon with the relationship not only of the rights of owners and the public rights of use or the copyright exceptions, but also the role of licences, and should they be allowed to override an exception that is in the law.

“That is a tough question,” he said. “It not only goes to the balance of rights,” he added, but lawmakers should decide to what extent an agreement can impede the statute they have worked hard to develop.

Countries Provide Clarifications, New Legislations

Some countries provided clarifications or additions to the study. For example, Saudi Arabia, which was mentioned in the study as one of the countries with no exceptions and limitations, said the 1984 copyright law provides an exception in paragraph 3.

Ecuador said it is working on a substantial reform of its current intellectual property legislation, including exceptions and limitations for people with disabilities, teaching and educational institutions, and libraries and archives.

China said it is undergoing the third revision of its copyright law, and Thailand said in November it passed an amendment to its copyright law, on TPMs, and this amendment includes an exemption for the circumvention of TPM for libraries and archives, educational institutes, and public broadcasting organisations.

Crews said many countries, including the United States and those in the European Union, have exceptions for TPMs, with two basic procedures: an exception that allows the user to “do the act of circumventing the measures to access the content,” and a legal system that calls on the rights holder to provide the means to users to access the content.

The United States said the US Congress is currently reviewing elements of its domestic copyright law, including library-related exceptions and limitations.

In November, the Czech Republic introduced a new amendment to its copyright system, the delegate said, “and the amendment brought a new exception for libraries and archives and for other cultural and educational institutions and for public broadcasters,” enabling them to use orphan works existing in their collection, under specific terms and for certain specific uses.

NGO Questions and Comments

The representative of the Electronic Information for Libraries (eIFL) asked Crews how WIPO, as a United Nations agency with a commitment to enhance developing countries’ participation in the global innovation economy, could support countries to be at the forefront of digital developments. The representative also asked how libraries can accommodate their increasing need to send and receive information across border, within the realm of copyright law.

Many countries have either no exceptions, or have exceptions but very limited applications, which do not cover digital technology, Crews said, adding that WIPO is in a position to shape the next model.

The International Publishers Association said that legislation is one thing but to know whether they are implemented and how they work is another. The representative advised looking at what kind of practice, and also practical initiatives between stakeholders can solve issues at stake.

In many cases, the representative said, issues are solved by alternative means, citing collective licensing, but also solutions bringing together stakeholders, he said, which provide space and flexibility for adaptation and further change. On cross-border document delivery, he said, “It is not true that documents are not crossing continents or crossing borders.” He explained that there are many alternative ways of receiving content across borders.

Crews said he is supportive of alternatives outside of the law, however, they might not be optimal solutions, he said. In particular, it often takes no less time to develop those alternatives than writing law, he said. He added that those alternatives, such as licences, are available only with respect to certain types of works, whereas statues apply to all types of works.

“The private extra-legal systems are not going to solve all of the issues,” said Crews.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions said the United Kingdom reform of its copyright law includes for the first time provisions that prevent contracts and licences from overriding the exceptions and limitations enjoyed by libraries and archives for non-commercial uses.

The Center for Internet and Society (India) asked about the interoperability of limitations and exceptions to allow for easier trans-boundary movement of works. Crews said the trans-border concept seldom appears in library exceptions. Trans-border sometimes is governed by copyright law and sometimes by some other part of national law, such as import and export, he said. Some degree of harmonisation can help with interoperability, he said.

In general terms, and following an intervention by the TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue mentioning public involvement in the discussions, Crews said, “We are all copyright owners and we are all users of other people’s copyrights to some extent.”

The public does not realise that they are all owners and users of copyrighted works on a daily basis, he said, and they need to become participants in the process.


Knowledge Ecology International asked if the periodical revision of the Berne Convention’s standards for copyright exceptions, which ended in 1971, should be resumed. The KEI representative also asked whether the copyright three-step test contained in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) applies to specific limitations and exceptions to remedies for infringement, in part III of TRIPS (Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights).

Crews answered that the three-step test does not apply to the remedies, or other matters. The test is on “its own terms applicable to the limitations and exceptions,” he said.

On the revision on the Berne Convention, Crews said “the answer is yes” but it is a “bigger subject than we are convened here today to discuss.”

KEI also mentioned a Spanish tax which “apparently” is taken on snippets from news organisations and asked if this tax does not violate the two mandatory exceptions in the Berne Convention, which are news of the day, and quotations.

Crews said the issue might be about the interrelationship of copyright with other areas of the law. The Spanish tax mentioned might be relative to a tax law, he said.