Centre for Internet & Society

As World Intellectual Property Organization member states launched into discussions on exceptions and limitations to copyright for the benefit of libraries and archives this week, non-governmental organisations were given the opportunity to present their views on the issue. They delivered vibrant, sometimes contradictory, statements on the opportunity for a treaty to preserve exceptions in the international copyright system.

The 26th session of the WIPO Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) is taking place from 16-20 December. After two days devoted to the protection of broadcasting organisations, the focus of the next two days has been on a potential international instrument providing exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives.

In their general statements, countries remained faithful to their known positions. Developing countries generally underlined the necessity of achieving a balanced international copyright system and their wish to establish a legally binding instrument, and developed countries were of the view that the existing international copyright system already provides exceptions which could be used by libraries and archives.

The African Group said the countries in the group: find it difficult to set up and understand the existing limitations and exceptions; believe an international legally binding instrument would enable them to understand better how they can provide exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives; and consider that it would provide a mechanism for cross-border exchange for such entities.

The European Union clearly stated that its member countries were not willing to consider a legally binding instrument, and said that exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives did not require the same kind of action that was taken in favour of visually impaired people, referring to the recently adopted Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.

Developed countries, in particular those in the European Union, did not always stand in favour of a treaty providing exceptions and limitations to copyright for visually impaired people. In the discussion on libraries and archives, developed countries are in favour of sharing national experiences rather than establishing binding new norms.

The United States said it was not in support of norm-setting through treaty provisions. The delegate also said exceptions and limitations should be consistent with other member state obligations, including the so-called three step test.

The notion of three-step test haunted the discussions leading to the Marrakesh Treaty. It stems originally from Article 9(2) of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (IPW, WIPO, 14 June 2013) and provides conditions for reproduction.

A large number of non-governmental organisations took the floor on 18 December, with stark differences in the approach of the issue of exceptions and limitations to copyright for libraries and archives.

Industry, Creators: International Instrument Superfluous

The industry, such as the International Federation of Film Producers, the Motion Picture Association (MPA), The International Association of Editors (IPA), the International Video Federation (IVF), the Ibero-Latin-American Federation of Performers (FILAIE), and the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), said that the existing international copyright framework already provides exceptions and limitations, and national legislations can be develop to address issues met by libraries and archives.

FILAIE said that it was in support of the Marrakesh Treaty but that a balance between society and the rights holders should be maintained. The IPA said there is no need for change in the international law, and suggested active legislative assistance to WIPO member states by the secretariat.

IVF concurred and said effective technical assistance in implementing the existing international copyright framework should be a focus of the SCCR.

The International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisation (IFRRO), in its statement, also said the current international conventions adequately provide for the establishment of relevant library exceptions in national legislation, such as reproduction for preservation proposals. The sharing of experiences ” both in the wording of library and archive exceptions and practical solutions seems to IFRRO to be the most appropriate way to enhance the performance of library and archive services,” the representative said.

“Exceptions and limitations are already part of the toolkit of existing treaties,” the representative for the International Federation of Actors and the International Federations of Musicians said. The international normative framework is providing “a coherent and flexible structure with just recognition of the contribution of creators to the information society and knowledge society, and the establishment of exceptions and other mechanisms providing access for the public to creative content,” he said.

The International Authors Forum concurred with the idea that existing provisions contain sufficient flexibility and asked that WIPO member states “will take advantage of the opportunity provided by the WIPO texts for adequate remuneration for the authors in accordance with the three-step test.”

Libraries, Archive Underline Inadequacies, Support Treaty

Libraries and archivists have a different view of the issue and reported on problems as they experience them on the ground.

The German Library Association cited a new study published by the European Commission (Study on the application of Directive 2001/29/EC on copyright and related rights in the information society [pdf]), and said it “paints a dire picture of the adequacy of the Directive for exceptions for libraries in the European Union in the digital environment.”

In particular, the representative said, it “identifies a lack of cross-border application of exceptions for libraries and a patchwork of national laws as preventing libraries from fulfilling their functions,” in particular presenting cross-border issues, he said.

“There is a high level of international copyright protection,” he said, but “there is no such uniformity of limitations.” To act legally, he said, “library staff has to know about the limitations and exception, not only in their own country, the country of origin, but also in the country of destination of its service.”

The Canadian Library Association said it came to WIPO “to ensure a basic copyright framework is made available to libraries everywhere, and not just in Canada to deliver essential information services, and so that other communities can benefit from the same societal and economic impacts as we have in Canada.”

Even in Canada, the representative said, libraries’ activities are under threat, “as increased restrictions such as technology group protection measures and licensing terms and conditions degrade the environment in which we work, leaving libraries changing our role to simple market access intermediaries for publishers.”

For Electronic Information for Libraries, an international framework establishing basic standards is necessary to avoid increasing inequalities in public knowledge. “We recognise the theory that the international copyright framework provides legal space to ensure meaningful limitations and exceptions,” the representative said, “But when the reality is different, and the gap between countries is widening, intervention is required to ensure the integration of key public interest concepts into the international framework.”

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions also underlined the disparity in national exceptions and limitations making it impossible for libraries to “competently fulfil our role as intermediaries between rights holders and users.”


The International Council of Archives (CIA) said a legally binding instrument will enable cross-border for non-commercial research purposes. The Societies of American Archivists said “current law prevents us from using the barrier-breaking technology to reach the shared goals of archives and copyright law, that is, expanding knowledge and creating new works.”

“The United States, for instance, has some library and archives exceptions, but they are inadequate and woefully out of date,” the representative said, listing a number of actions that are not permitted, such as preserving backup copies of digitised materials. “As for fair use, it is often subject to costly litigation leaving too many archives hesitant to put material online,” he said.

Civil Society

Knowledge Ecology International underlined the increasing role of contracts in eroding exceptions in countries which have statutory exceptions. “We notice,” the representative said, “that the groups that oppose the library treaty are strong supporters of treaties for broadcast organisations.”

The Center for Internet and Society (India) supported an international instrument, in particular from the perspective of developing and least-developed countries. It would serve two main purposes, the representative said. On the one hand, it would protect copyrighted works, and on the other, it would provide greater access to these materials, and allow the dissemination of knowledge, culture and information, in accordance with the WIPO Development Agenda.

The SCCR Chair, Martin Moscoso, director of the Peru Copyright Office, encouraged member states to take the NGOs statements into account.