WIPO: 2019 copyright debates on education and research fuel controversies

published 8 November 2019 updated 31 January 2020

Educators at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have advocated for exceptions and limitations and for an international instrument that will regulate education and research.

These were some of the key demands stressed by Education International (EI) delegates during the WIPO meetings that took place from 18 – 25 October 2019.

2019 has been a key year for copyright in education and research as WIPO has coordinated a number of events in the frame of the 2019 Action Plan to advance international copyright work for education, research, libraries, archives and museums. EI and its member organisations took part in all three regional seminars (Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Africa)and were also present during the last event, the International Conference on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries, Archives, Museums and Educational & Research Institutions

Commercial actors try to distract from finding international solutions

The aim of the international conference was to bring together all recommendations from the regional seminars as well as to provide guidance on possible international reforms to be advanced at WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR).

Two experts, Professor Daniel Seng and Professor Raquel Xalabar, analysed existing copyright laws around the world and identified gaps and challenges for education and research. In line with existing discussions and demands by civil society and governments at the regional seminars both experts stated that an international normative solution was the right direction to go to. Reference was also made to the draft treaty TERA that EI and 40 other organisations had recently endorsed.

However, according to the EI delegation, the efforts to come up with concrete action plans were overshadowed by an effort from the WIPO Secretariat to reduce discussions to national and commercial solutions. This moved the international conference away from its original mandate “to consider the opportunities and challenges provided by various international solutions including soft law, contractual/licensing and normative approaches, as appropriate.”

Stifled voice of non-commercial actors

This concern was confirmed by the composition of the education and research panel: 8 commercial actors, including Pearson and Elsevier, 1 consultant on collective management and only 4 representatives from the education and research sector. The discussions revolved around national solutions and, due to the large number of publishers, no substantial discussions on education and research were possible, according to EI. Education workers’ delegates regretted that the debate was focused on “the promotion of market-driven ideas about access to works for teaching and learning”. Robert Jeyakumar, from EI’s member organization MOVE, was part of the panel and stressed the need “to not forget that we are talking about education as a human right and that teachers should not be forced to keep up with inadequate copyright laws – but we should ensure that the laws defend education as a public good and keep up with the teachers.”

The conclusions of the panel were presented by WIPO’s Deputy Director General Sylvie Forbin and focused on the need to look at commercial solutions (i.e. licenses, Collective Management Organisations), while the need for meaningful international work as discussed by WIPO experts, public interest groups and governments was not granted much attention, according to EI attendants.

Push back at the 39th Session of WIPOs Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights

Despite the effort to keep the focus on national solutions a number of member states and regional groups reiterated their support at the following SCCR for international legislative work for education, research, libraries, archives and museums.

Hearing about a leaked document that revealed WIPO’s intention to change the agenda item on education and research to include commercial solutions, Education International and other public interest groups raised serious concerns about these intentions insisting that “exceptions and limitations for education and research must remain a standalone agenda item and that we need to work on finding binding international solutions for challenges faced by educators and researchers in schools and universities around the globe”.

This concern was shared by a large number of member states who opposed the suggested changes, resulting in the final rejection of the controversial work plan. The discussions on how the work on copyright for education, research, libraries and archives will continue will be picked up again at the next SCCR in 2020.