Great steps forward for teaching and research at the World Intellectual Property Organisation

published 14 April 2023 updated 20 March 2024

The 43rd meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) concluded with major wins for the rights of teachers and researchers to adapt and choose materials for quality education and research. Education International participated together with member organisations CONADU (Argentina), AUSPS (Fiji), and UASU (Kenya).

Concrete plan to advance work on copyright limitations and exceptions

The work programme on limitations and exceptions proposed by the African Group was adopted. The programme provides a solid framework to advance in the discussion on copyright limitations and exceptions for libraries, archives, educational institutions, research institutions, and persons with disabilities. Provisions for limitations and exceptions are crucial because they allow teachers, researchers, librarians, and others to use copyrighted works without costly licenses from copyright owners.

The Work Programme calls for the Committee to focus particularly on adaptations of exceptions that allow teaching, learning, and research through digital and online tools. For example, to allow teachers to show a YouTube video in class or have access to research papers to share with students. It also recommends concrete steps to make progress in the discussion on the implications of cross-border uses of copyrighted work, for example when an online class involves students from multiple countries, or when collaborating researchers are located in different countries.

The current challenges teachers and researchers face when working across borders are daunting, as a Senior Lecturer from a Swedish University describes it, “to access material from 1956, we have to go to the National Library Lab in Stockholm. It is a small glass cage with three data terminals. You sit in the lab, annotate. Access to it costs SEK 70,000 the first year, and 35,000 in the following years. You are not allowed to take data in or out, all labs must be done in the cage. Transparency is non-existent. If someone wants to verify the results, they also have to buy the license for a lot of money. An incredible anxiety!”. This and other testimonies shared by Communia Association in the publication “Nobody puts research in a cage” show the barriers EU researchers face due to the limitations copyright law poses to scientific research.

The programme also sets up other relevant topics for education and research that can be taken up by the committee in future discussions, such as limitations and exceptions for text and data mining research, the legal implications of the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science (2021), cross border implications in relation to limitations and exceptions on preservation, teaching and research, among others.

Women leaders from the Global South voice the perspectives of teachers and researchers

Miriam Socolovsky from CONADU, Grace Nyongesa from UASU, and Elizabeth Fong from AUSPS shared the experiences of teachers using materials in their classrooms and dealing with copyright barriers. According to EI’s research “Is it legal?”, copyright barriers affect teachers in the Global South to a greater extent than teachers in the Global North. As educators and unionists, the EI representatives provided valuable insights into teachers’ and researchers’ needs and called for copyright reforms in national legislations that guarantee limitations and exceptions for education and research purposes. The approval of the Working Programme proposed by the African Group is an important step forward in the right direction.

Welcoming the outcomes of the meeting, Elizabeth Fong stated: “The SCCR 43 is considered the best thus far. The important work now is to keep the momentum until the next meeting in order to bring about change. The Association of USP Staff supports the work of EI in this area and I was pleased to be able to share a Pacific view at the SCCR 43. I am working to rekindle a focus on the revision of the Fiji Copyright Act (1999) in consultation with the Fiji Teachers Union, the Fijian Teachers Association, the Library Association of Fiji, and the Fiji WIPO representative that will also encourage University of the South Pacific countries to do the same via their governments.”

The education unionists also represented the voice of teachers and spoke up for the right to education among governmental representatives from around the globe and members of civil society represented by the Access to Knowledge Coalition (A2K).

As Miriam Socolovsky from CONADU points out, joining forces across civil society is essential: “Being present at the SCCR 43 allowed me to connect with A2K members, especially all the Latin American organisations, and begin to think about ways for unions and other organisations to collaborate. Our presence was an important asset to the A2K coalition because we represent millions of people working in public education. Our voice rings louder and country delegates cannot ignore it.”

Elizabeth Fong noted that “the SCCR revealed, yet again, that while governments are driven by politics, it is civil society that advocates and strives for equity in access to information. This is our position as education unions.”

Upcoming Education International research

At the SCCR, Education International shared the interim results of three research studies that will be released later this year. The studies highlight the perspectives of teachers on the impact of copyright on teaching and learning, and the challenges of teaching in cross-border contexts, when the teacher or the students are in different countries with different copyright legislation.

Interim results show that:

  • Teachers rely on access to quality educational resources, including options to make these materials accessible for students with disabilities.
  • Teachers work with a variety of resources to provide modern education, including copyright-protected materials. They therefore rely on copyright exceptions that are broad and flexible enough to allow for education to stay relevant as innovation advances.
  • Teachers mostly use part of copyright-protected works.
  • Teachers need training on copyright legislation to make informed decisions about the use of materials for education.
  • Copyright challenges in relation to cross-border educational activities require further attention through global policy reforms at WIPO. These reforms must be informed by evidence from the classroom.

The three studies will be launched in September, to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information.