Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights : Twenty-First Session

The Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) is not the Canadian parliamentary committee that will be studying Bill C-32. It would be great if Canada did have a SCCR, as this would allow parliamentarians to properly study issues, as well as create and pass more sensible bills than we have seen thus far. It might also mean that there would be a group of 12 parliamentarians that would be watching what is happening at WIPO, helping to direct our negotiators there. We currently have an unworkable split between the standing committees of Heritage (CHPC), Industry (INDU), and International Trade (CIIT).

Among other things, this group of 12 parliamentarians would be tasked with knowing what has previously happened at WIPO and WTO/TRIPS, and wouldn't be so easily manipulated by special interest lawyers trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

SCCR is a standing committee of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and it twenty-first meeting has been in Geneva, Switzerland from November 8, 2010 to November 12, 2010.

The three main topics on the initial agenda are: Protection of broadcasting organizations, protection of audiovisual performances, and limitations and exceptions.

Not surprisingly, the topic I am most interested in is limitations and exceptions, the part of WIPO administered Copyright treaties that is most out of date. Canada already offers protection for broadcasting (Section 21) and audiovisual performances (Section 15).

Within limitations and exceptions a focus has been on trying to create a "right to read" treaty for the blind, creating the required limits and exceptions to copyright to allow blind people similar access to creative works as sighted persons.

In the past I wrote about Canada's involvement in SCCR 18 (May 25-29, 2009). The word from Bruce Couchman at the time was that Canada was neutral on whether a treaty should move forward.

There has been a number of people tweeting about #sccr21. After asking whether Canada has been involved in this part of the meetings this week, one reply said, "Canada has not been at all visible or audible this week. Probably better."

On the other hand, France seems to be taking a hard line against a treaty. France as chair of the wealthy countries, Delphine LIda, is said to hold fundamentalist views on copyright against right to read treaty for the blind. The wealthy countries, Group B which includes Canada, allowed France to speak on their behalf in opening statements on November 8'th. You can see the split between the currently economically rich countries and the rest of the world in the draft conclusions from the previous SCCR meeting.

There is some discussion about whether Justin Hughes of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is just using France to block progress without blame to the United States, since the US is otherwise generally seen as the greatest roadblock to progress at WIPO.

My views on required limitations and exceptions

I believe any 'hardware assist' for communications, whether it be eye-glasses, VCR's, or personal computers, must be under the control of the citizen and not a third party. WIPO should embrace this concept and clarify via treaty that copyright does not regulate the activities of this technology for personal/private uses. This would not only help the blind (screen readers, etc, would no longer be regulated), but also every other citizen.

I do not believe the current Canadian practice of granting exceptions to institutions (CNIB/etc) is appropriate: any limits to copyright must be to individuals, not institutions. Mandated government trusted institutions as intermediaries is outdated thinking that must be modernized. I believe that a modernization of Canadian copyright would remove institutional exceptions to copyright, including educational, and replacing it with citizen focused exemptions.

This would only be the beginning, and there are many other things needed to allow the blind similar access to creative works than sighted persons. Part of this is is similar to discussed in the context of photography where the concept of "the same rights"in Copyright is nonsense. How copyright regulates the activities of the minority abled is different than how copyright regulates the activities of the majority abled.

While the conversation at WIPO committees is far more modern than the conversation in Canada's parliament and parliamentary committees, they are far behind where they need to be. Some countries, especially the Group B countries, seem to be stuck in very outdated thinking.

Additional notes

According to Jamie Love, via twitter:

"Most groups in WIPO defined by Geography. i.e. Asian or African Group. Group B and the DAC are exceptions.
Group B is basically Europe plus high income countries, like USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, etc.
The Development Agenda Group (DAG) is new. It is 20 like minded developing countries. China is not part of DAG."

I won't have the current information until the report from SCCR 21 is tabled, but the following may be of interest.

Officially representing Canada at SCCR 18 and 20:

  • John Gero, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Geneva
  • Bruce Couchman, Senior Advisor, Copyright and International Intellectual Property Policy Directorate, Department of Industry, Ottawa
  • Darren Smith, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of Canada, Geneva

At SCCR19, instead of John Gero, there was: Catherine Beaumont (Ms.), Senior Policy Analyst, Legislation and Negotiations, Copyright Policy Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage, Ottawa.

At SCCR 20, Ambassador John Gero gave an interesting speech On the Right to Read for Blind Persons and others with print disabilities, which included discussion of the (then recently) tabled Bill C-32..

NGO's with representatives from Canada at SCCR 21:

International Federation of Actors (FIA):

Stephen WADDELL, ACTRA, Canada
Ferne DOWNEY, ACTRA National, Toronto, Canada

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA):

Victoria OWEN, (Ms.), Head Librarian, University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada