SLA Joins Calls to Strengthen Copyright and Intellectual Property Laws
Climate Change, COVID-19 Virus Highlight Gaps in Current Law
McLean, Va., 26 April 2020—On the occasion of World Intellectual Property Day, SLA is joining calls for global action on copyright and intellectual property laws to allow libraries to provide and protect access to research and cultural resources in the face of challenges such as the COVID-19 virus pandemic and climate change.
SLA has signed on to two letters to the World Intellectual Property Organization (which organizes World Intellectual Property Day) urging WIPO to take the lead in facilitating the copyright and IP changes. The letters state, in part, the following:
[T]here is growing awareness of the impact of climate change on cultural heritage. This can happen gradually, through changes in temperature that accelerate the degradation of materials or leave institutions and sites underwater. It can also happen suddenly, thanks to an increased chance of fires or extreme weather events.
Clearly not all irreversible losses can be prevented, but a lot can be done by investing in preservation capacity and comprehensive plans for managing and responding to risks. Alongside training, equipment and buildings, at the heart of these efforts is preservation copying. This is essential to ensure that works survive into the future, even if the original physical support is lost, using tools such as digitisation.
Currently, copyright laws currently are not up to the task. In 51 countries around the world, there are no basic preservation exceptions, meaning that any relevant copying is effectively illegal unless a heritage institution gains (and potentially pays for) authorisation. Furthermore, while 136 countries do have preservation exceptions, 73 limit preservation copying in ways that effectively prevent digitisation.
As their contribution to addressing climate change, copyright decision-makers can make a difference by taking action internationally to facilitate preservation. It is only at the global level that we can realise the potential of digitisation in safeguarding our heritage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on how important intellectual property limitations and exceptions can be to development and human flourishing. Researchers discovered the spread of the virus through a text and data mining project analysing copyrighted news articles, enabled by Canada’s flexible fair dealing right for research purposes. The earliest potential treatments have been developed through existing medicines, enabled by experimental use exceptions to patent rights.
Now, schools, universities, libraries, archives, museums and research institutes across the world, forced to close their buildings, are transferring materials online and providing remote access, but only where copyright laws permit. However, these and other critical activities to overcome the crisis are not being performed everywhere—including where subscriptions have been paid in advance—because they are not lawful everywhere.
We have seen helpful steps from a number of countries, and from some right holders themselves, to facilitate access to academic articles and other works, educational and cultural materials, research data, chemical libraries, and needed medicines and medical devices that are subject to intellectual property rights. These steps are to be lauded. But much more is needed. And WIPO can help lead the way.
The climate change letter and the COVID-19 letter were both sent to WIPO by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), of which SLA is a longtime member.
The Special Libraries Association (SLA) is a nonprofit international organization for innovative information professionals and their strategic partners. SLA serves information professionals in more than 60 countries and in a range of working environments, including business, academia and government agencies. SLA promotes and strengthens its members through learning, advocacy and networking initiatives. For more information, visit sla.org.