The Long Road to Global Copyright Cooperation

It was a great experience attending the 42nd Session of the World Intellectual Property Organization Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR). This was the first face-to-face SCCR since 2019, and it was also one of the first times that the global copyright ecosystem has been convened to consider the impact of the pandemic on creative industries.

The Limitations and Exceptions Debate Continues

From 2004, when SCCR started considering limitations and exceptions, the International Publishers Association’s position has been clear: the international copyright framework is the foundation of the publishing industry. Put simply, this means that copyright systems must provide publishers adequate protection, including enforceable exclusive rights, and carefully considered exceptions and limitations to support local publishing. Copyright’s essential role in rewarding creative enterprise remains the basis for IPA’s WIPO engagement.

At SCCR, the African Group proposed a Work Program on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions. The deliberations culminated in the WIPO Secretariat agreeing to continue assessing cross-border problems using copyrighted works online and developing toolkits to support national copyright frameworks that promote education, research, and cultural heritage.

Influencing the Global Publishing Industry and Copyright Dialogue

On the first day of SCCR, an information session — Overview on Copyright-Related Impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Educational, Research, and Cultural Heritage Institutions and the People They Serve — was hosted to discuss how the global pandemic affected creative industries. The session opened with the presentation of the findings from a new WIPO report called The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Creative Industries, Cultural Institutions, Education, and Research.

IPA’s work over the last two years to understand the impact of the global pandemic on the ground through primary research and programs, such as the International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience (Inspire) initiative, was heavily cited in the report. IPA’s empirical data gathered through extensive global membership engagement significantly shaped the report’s analysis. The report referenced several IPA findings:

  • Cancelation of global literary events, supply chain challenges, raw material shortages, and surging input costs had a systemic impact that reduced global publishing sales.
  • Digital sales did not fully compensate publishers for the closure of physical sales channels.
  • Government support for the publishing industry globally was severely lacking.
  • Global publishing’s dual track recovery is strongly linked to digital economy maturity.
  • Lack of sufficient copyright frameworks made publishers — especially educational publishers — in emerging markets reluctant to fully embrace digital publishing.
  • National publishers’ associations innovations played a key role in enabling publishing markets to develop resilience to industry challenges and fast-track recovery.
  • The global pandemic led to increased print and digital piracy in countries with less developed copyright frameworks and enforcement capabilities.

In my statement at SCCR, I also emphasized the important work IPA does in supporting member national publishers associations to engage national governments on copyright.

Emirates Reprographic Rights Management Association

After more than a decade of engaging stakeholders, I am also happy to report that my efforts to establish the Arab World’s first reprographic rights organization (RRO) finally came to fruition. Since 2009, when it was established, the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA) led efforts to establish an RRO in the United Arab Emirates.

In 2009, EPA agreed with the Emirates Writers Union and Emirates Intellectual Property Association to jointly cooperate on the development of an RRO. Together, the EPA and the Emirates Writers Union developed an initial proposal to establish an RRO which was presented to the Ministry of Economy in May 2010. These initial discussions proved to be premature, and the industry dialogue was revived again in a series of meetings in 2015–2016 and follow up consultations with the invaluable participation of IPA, Copyright Clearance Center, WIPO, and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations.

In the presence of the Ministers of Economy, Culture and Youth, and Community Development, the Emirates Reprographic Rights Management Association (ERRA) was launched in March 2022. At SCCR, it was great to see ERRA accredited as an ad hoc non-governmental organization observer. ERRA’s launch shows how critical the IPA’s convening power can be to developing publishing markets like the United Arab Emirates in adopting global copyright frameworks. It also shows just how far an emerging publishing market can come with the support of global publishing ecosystem colleagues.

Enhancing Global Cooperation on Copyright: Where do We Go From Here?

Having attended SCCR a few times now, I’m left with the feeling that perhaps global publishing could be doing more to bridge our differences by building on the renewed solidarity the industry has built in collectively weathering the pandemic. After all, the long road to the United Arab Emirates founding ERRA is an example of what can be achieved when stakeholders with disparate interests come together for systemic change and progress. However, sometimes the road to cooperation can be a long one.

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Bodour Al Qasimi

President of International Publishers Association; Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group, Kalimat Foundation and PublisHer network to empower women in publishing.