Bridges Weekly Trade News DigestVolume 16Number 34 • 10th October 2012

WIPO Assemblies Approve Copyright Exceptions Roadmap for the Visually Impaired


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The World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 185 member states brought their annual Assemblies meeting to a close yesterday, endorsing a work plan aimed at intensifying negotiations next year over a legal instrument to improve access to copyrighted material for the visually impaired and print disabled.

Other notable results of the Assemblies included the approval of a roadmap aimed at moving forward negotiations at the Intergovernmental Committee on Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Traditional Cultural Expressions (IGC), along with an agreement to expedite WIPO’s trademark body’s works on industrial designs.

Copyright exceptions take centre stage

The meetings had kicked off last week with a call from WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry for a “rules-based IP system,” in the face of rising “technological protectionism.” (See Bridges Weekly, 3 October 2012)

The highlight of this year’s Assemblies was ultimately the approval of a work plan for the organisation’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) to continue discussions on a future legal instrument providing exceptions and limitations (E&Ls) for visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities.

WIPO’s copyright body had already agreed upon the work plan last July. The plan may result in the convening of a diplomatic conference - the highest level of WIPO negotiations - to finalise an agreement next year (See Bridges Weekly, 25 July 2012).

Despite this progress, many delegations noted that some outstanding issues remain unsolved, particularly regarding the nature and scope of the future instrument, with countries debating whether the agreement should have a binding effect and whether it should cover other works apart from books.

The Development Agenda Group (DAG) - a coalition of developing countries that supports the mainstreaming of the development dimension across all areas of WIPO’s work - said that member states “must not miss the opportunity to conclude a treaty next year.”

“WIPO should contribute with nothing less than a treaty to help address the ‘book famine’” for the visually impaired, Brazil argued.

“We do not agree with second class solutions. If we provide right-holders with binding instruments, we should provide persons with print disabilities the same legal certainty,” the Brazilian delegate added.

A representative from the World Blind Union said that the his organisation is “cautiously encouraged” by the latest developments and called on the UN agency to conclude a treaty to serve the interests of visually impaired persons worldwide, especially those in need of physical paper hardcopies of copyrighted material.

However, the US - speaking on behalf of developed country bloc Group B - stressed that “more work is clearly needed,” with the EU requesting to narrow down the scope of the instrument.

“It would be regretful if attempts to widen the scope of the current discussions would endanger the successful achievement of our objective: a meaningful, effective, and balanced instrument,” the EU stated.

Discussions are next set to take place at an inter-sessional meeting of the committee - to be held later this month - and at the twenty-fifth session of the SCCR in November, “with a view to conclude or advance substantially the text-based work.”

The General Assembly (GA) also approved the recommendation issued at the last SCCR to continue discussions in three areas of the committee’s work: a potential treaty for the protection of broadcasting organisations; a future instrument(s) on E&Ls for libraries and archives; and on an instrument(s) on E&Ls for persons with other disabilities, as well as educational and research institutions.

IGC roadmap endorsed, though differences remain unresolved

Delegates also agreed on a path forward for WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) on Genetic Resources (GRs), Traditional Knowledge (TK), and Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCEs).

Three thematic IGC meetings - one for each area of work - will take place to work on text(s) for an international legal instrument(s) that will ensure the effective protection of GRs, TK, and TCEs. The last thematic session, which is scheduled for July 2013, will be extended in order to review and take stock of the text(s) and make a recommendation to next year’s General Assembly, which will decide whether to convene a diplomatic conference.

The work programme resulted from days of “intense and lengthy” informal negotiations that were held during the Assemblies under Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, who serves as the committee’s chair. While developing countries - the African Group in particular - asked for additional meetings, developed countries were generally reluctant toward extending the IGC sessions.

The nature of the future instrument(s) sparked debate among WIPO members during the talks, with the US among those noting that a “wide divergence of views” remains with regard to the texts.

“The objectives and the draft articles need further refinement before any instrument can be finalised and a decision can be reached on the nature of these instruments,” the Group of Central European and Baltic States (CEBS) added. The EU, for its part, reiterated that the instrument(s) should be “flexible, sufficiently clear, and non-binding.”

However, developing countries urged WIPO members to engage in negotiations to achieve binding legal instruments in the three IGC areas of work.

“International binding rules would correct the imbalances of the international intellectual property system that served the interests of some and not the legitimate interests of others,” Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Like-Minded Group of Developing Countries, said.

“WIPO administers treaties, legally binding agreements, not recommendations,” Zimbabwe added.

Assemblies approve moving work forward on industrial designs

Developed and developing countries also butted heads over a potential treaty to harmonise industrial designs registration formalities under the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT).

As in last month’s SCT talks, many developed countries at the GA meeting were eager to move discussions on industrial designs towards a diplomatic conference (See Bridges Weekly, 26 September 2012). Hungary’s proposal to hold the conference at the end of 2013 was met with resistance from several developing countries, which judged it to be premature and requested that the discussions include developing countries’ needs in the area of capacity building.

Ultimately, members agreed “to advance substantially the basic proposals for a Design Law Treaty” and to include in such a deal “appropriate provisions regarding technical assistance and capacity building for developing countries and LDCs in the [future treaty's] implementation.”

As the nine-day talks came to a close, General Assemblies Chair Ambassador Uglješa Zvekić from Serbia praised delegates for the progress achieved in advancing the UN agency’s normative agenda.

“No doubt this was the most productive and constructive gathering, which reached agreements on a number of important issues, ranging from… deliberations on the future which lies ahead of us, to setting criteria and timeframes for the conclusion of works in the normative arena,” he said.

ICTSD reporting.

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