Demanding progress for education and research at the World Intellectual Property Organization

published 21 June 2022 updated 13 July 2022

Stop putting teachers at risk and advance balanced international reforms that empower educators and researchers worldwide to adapt and choose materials for quality education and research.

This was Education International’s call to action at the 42nd meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) that took place from 9-13 May in Geneva, Switzerland.

WIPO’s SCCR was set up in the 1998-1999 biennium to examine matters of substantive law or harmonisation in the field of copyright and related rights. As such, it is the dedicated international committee that could - through legally binding instruments - address the challenges of copyright restrictions for education most effectively.

Education International study: Copyright laws inadequate for teaching in digital era

On the occasion of the SCCR, Education International launched the study, Is it legal? Education and Copyright in the Digital Age, by Teresa Nobre. The report paints a stark picture of the status of copyright laws around the world. Basic teaching activities, such as showing a video in an online class or storing a news item on a school platform, are currently illegal in many countries. Educators in Latin America, Africa, and some parts of Asia-Pacific are particularly disadvantaged.

However, globally, cross-border collaboration that involves the use of copyright-protected works is a legal challenge for educators.

Education and copyright during pandemic

The 42nd SCCR meeting kicked off with a COVID-19 information session. This provided a platform for representatives from the education, research, and cultural heritage sector as well as the creative industries to share their experiences during the pandemic.

Education International welcomed that the panel on education and the SCCR’s Expert Report recognised the legal risks and consequences that teachers are exposed to in situations where their countries’ copyright laws are not fit for education. This has been a major concern, particularly for remote and digitally supported education during the pandemic.

The report also referred to the importance of Open Science as one way of increasing access to research, but it remained silent on access to Open Educational Resources. Surprisingly, the session´s panel did not include any copyright experts. Therefore, no recommendations on how to support education and research in this regard were made.

A representative from the national Department of Basic Education in South Africa, Nonpumelelo Mohohlwane, stressed that a guarantee for limitations and exceptions for education could be a good way “to allow teachers and schools to plan ahead and be prepared for future pandemics”.

Draft broadcast treaty on hold

On Tuesday and Wednesday, 10-11 May, the SCCR discussed the draft WIPO Broadcasting Organizations Treaty. In its statement, Education International expressed concern that “while new exclusive rights for broadcasters are being created, exceptions and limitations remain inadequately addressed. This is particularly alarming in the context of this pandemic where educational broadcasts have helped millions of children worldwide to practice reading and literacy skills. But it is also relevant beyond the pandemic, audio-visual works such as films, documentaries and other broadcasts are commonly used in teaching, learning and research.”

The Committee could not agree on concrete next steps for this treaty but committed to continue discussions at the 43rd SCCR meeting in 2023.

Action for education and research at WIPO

As the agenda moved on to discuss the next steps on copyright exceptions and limitations for libraries, archives, educational institutions, research institutions, and persons with disabilities, the proposal of WIPO’s African regional group was at the centre of the debate.

In its statement, Education International highlighted the massive discrepancies between what is required from teachers and what copyright laws allow and welcomed the African proposal as a step in the right direction.

“We appreciate the leadership of so many countries in this room who recognise the important role of teachers for quality education, who do not close their eyes to the fact that current copyright laws put teachers in vulnerable positions, and who are ready to move beyond vague statements about potential legal impossibilities,” the statement read.

The African Group’s proposal was strongly supported by the Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC).Particularly developed countries who continue being adamant against any work towards a globally binding instrument to support education, research, and cultural heritage organisations worldwide opposed the proposal. Once it was established that the next steps should be focused on toolkits and guidance, there was agreement that the Secretariat can start working on the following items:

• Invite research presentations on copyright challenges for teachers and researchers working in cross-border educational or research projects (e.g., online classes with students in multiple countries, research collaborations)

• Develop toolkits to “help Members craft laws and policies that support education, research and preservation of cultural heritage”

• “Present (1) a scoping study on limitations and exceptions on research and (2) a toolkit on preservation”

There was no agreement on the next steps in relation to text and data mining research, the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, as well as contract override and safe harbour protections.

Education International will remain engaged in relation to the agreed action items as well as those that are still outstanding to ensure that the perspectives of teachers and researchers as creators and users are taken into consideration.

The Committee Chair’s summary of SCCR/42 is available here.