Wedded to commercial interests, the European Union has wrecked a deal to help academics worldwide...
Copyright rarely makes headlines, though it, and the wider field of intellectual property, have both become a lucrative source of income for lawyers. It is the arena for bitter battles as enormous capitalist organisations such as NewsCorp and Disney try to monopolise the publication and transmission of knowledge.
Library professionals around the world have been left angry and frustrated.
Photo: Amy Johansson/ Shutterstock.com
Copyright has also been an issue for trade unions in higher and further education institutions. UCU has had to fight hard to block increasingly corporate university employers who want to seize for themselves the discoveries and innovations made by the people they employ. It also negotiated a post-1992 contract for lecturers which allows staff to retain copyright over the work they produce as part of their scholarly activity.
Speaking up for science
Librarians have played an important role in copyright discussions, as some of the few people who speak up for those who want to use scientific and scholarly information. In Britain the librarians’ professional body is the moving force behind the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance, which has campaigned on behalf of those who use copyrighted information: students, academics and researchers. It has been instrumental in having the law extended to allow fair use of copyrighted works online.
Librarians are also active on the world stage, through the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) which, in the face of opposition, managed to secure itself a place at on the Standing Committee on Copyright & Related Rights, part of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). IFLA representatives took part in detailed discussions on exceptions to copyright law, which are the clauses allowing library users to make limited copies of works for private study and other permitted purposes.
The matter came to a head earlier this year at a meeting of the Standing Committee. It seemed to everyone that an international treaty was imminent, and one which would include important clauses on exceptions for text-based work. At 1.30 in the morning, the EU representatives sabotaged the discussions by blocking discussion of exceptions.
The IFLA Deputy General Secretary expressed his frustration in unusually strong terms. He said, “For the past three years, Member States have been looking at draft texts on copyright exceptions for libraries and archives. The EU is now trying to pretend these don’t exist. We’re frustrated, and deeply disappointed. It appears the EU came to WIPO with one goal in mind: to kill the discussion.”
The spokesman for the International Council of Archives was even more forthright. He said of the EU, “It seems to value only internal commercial interests, ignoring the human rights and cultural needs of the rest of the world and its own interests in culture and research.”
Britain’s representative (from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) condemned the sabotage and reminded the world that it had been the EU that spent the five years leading up to the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities opposing the proposed copyright exemptions for blind and partially sighted readers.
The next time an EU apologist waxes lyrical about its work in standardising and harmonising international agreements, remind them of the wrecking role the EU played at WIPO, which will be an obstacle to British scientists, scholars and innovators for years to come.
The EU has recently closed a consultation on copyright law, which will doubtless become legislation in due course. We don’t need it. Copyright evolved in Britain: the first copyright legalisation was one of the laws passed after the Act of Union: the Copyright Act of 1709, also known as the Statute of Anne. Those who create and work with the copyrightable works – scientists, writers, researchers, musicians – can show the way to workable solutions. We have no need of the EU. ■