Have you received an email from IFLA?


  • You may have received an email recently from Ellen Broad of IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations & Institutions) about WIPO disarray, 1.30am meetings and diplomatic uproar. What’s it all about?

Back in February this year, INS drafted a response to an ALIA survey on international library lending – that is, when Griffith loans and borrows materials from overseas libraries. This may be simply emailing an article to a library overseas, as currently happens amongst Australian libraries. Increasingly we can’t offer this service to scholars because of heavily restrictive licensing laws overseas, or as Ellen Broad puts it:

In the digital environment, publishers could be described as our copyright policy makers. They determine what services we are permitted to provide to patrons in our communities, in our countries – the exceptions and limitations crafted by our government policy makers to ensure libraries are able to fulfil their services in the public interest no longer apply.

While that’s a blunt appraisal, the Griffith Document Delivery Services (DDS) team tries in every way possible to deliver information requested by scholars, but often can’t if it’s overseas. DDS staff work to foster international research, scholarly collaboration and cultural preservation, and in principle should be able to facilitate access to information by people wherever they are in the world. But in practice it doesn’t work to have national copyright frameworks that prevent cross border digital transfer of information.

Fast forward to May and INS staff were delighted to see the survey results (para.9) were used to reinforce Trish Hepworth’s (Australian Digital Alliance) argument at the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) meeting in Switzerland for why licensing barriers should be addressed to craft an international treaty so that Libraries and Archives can share content internationally. It appeared to catch the EU and industrialised nations by surprise, resulting in “stonewalled resistance.” Vigorous negotiations continued until the meeting ended “in disarray” at 1:30am the next day.

In a media release, IFLA Deputy Secretary General Stuart Hamilton expressed disappointment about the EU’s stance at WIPO:

For the past three years, Member States have been looking at draft texts on copyright exceptions for libraries and archives. The EU is now trying to pretend these don’t exist. We’re frustrated, and deeply disappointed. It appears the EU came to WIPO with one goal in mind: to kill the discussion.

The pushback was expected and negotiation will be ongoing. The reverberations from this breakdown (one of many since 2003) include the issuance of an alarmist media statement by international publishers and their representatives that allowing libraries to share collections (aka email an article – which already happens within Australia) across borders would “severely prejudice” all creative industries (PDF) and also a statement that the Marrakesh treaty (which allows sharing of works for disabled persons) was negotiated in a hurry so should be revisited, which threatens a rewind. IFLA are countering by petitioning for a treaty to allow cross border sharing – hence the email from Ellen Broad of IFLA.

My  advice regarding the email is that if you personally want to support the IFLA statement, read it carefully to ensure you understand it and sign it as an industry professional. Any response from Griffith University as an institution may be made via the PVC INS and possibly via ALIA or the Australian Digital Alliance.

As always, WIPO exists as a pool for debate on global intellectual property issues, and this debate shall continue. INS will continue to take part in sensible initiatives that underpin international research and scholarly collaboration.

Dr Anna Daniel, Information Policy Officer



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