I woke up this morning to some disappointing news. After a push by developing countries at WIPO’s copyright meeting to include a substantive discussion on exceptions and limitations (E&Ls) to copyright for education, Group B (EU, US) has dropped any reference to education being covered in future meetings. The work plan does refer to E&Ls for libraries and archives + “on another exception to be agreed”, leaving some room to get education back on the agenda but there there is obviously some strong pressure against this since it did appear in an earlier version.
The focus on libraries and archives seems to miss a strong point about accessing learning materials in the digital age. Although libraries and archives are important for negotiating group access to academic journals etc, most of the current problems around exceptions and limitations are experienced by teachers and learners in academic institutions. Many national laws do not cover electronic distribution for educational purposes (either they’re still stuck in the analogue age or their publishers are forcing them to be stuck there) and when they do cover electronic distribution (for example in the US) their scope is way too limiting to be really useful. Added to that is the problem that DRM and laws that prohibit the circumvention of DRM leave many teachers in the lurch when they’re trying to make sections of works (especially video works) available to their students. If you’re not allowed to circumvent DRM but you need to do that in order to exercise your right to make a section of a work available to students, what do you do? Most teachers prefer, understandably, to err on the side of caution – especially since the publishing industry can be incredibly trigger-happy when faced with a case where they can bend legal precedent to their will (see Cambridge University Press, et al. v. Patton et al. in the United States where academic publishers have filed a copyright lawsuit against the president, provost, and librarian of Georgia State University for the university’s use of electronic reserves as a case in point).
So, yes, Houston, we have a problem – a problem that should be solved for teachers and learners rather than just libraries (even though libraries have enough problems of their own as the ereserves case points out). Friends in Geneva tell me not to worry – that the ‘Africa Group, GRULAC (minus Mexico) and Asia will push back hard to get education back on the agenda’.
Holding thumbs for that outcome but depressed as always with the shenanigans at WIPO.