Time to be positive about authors' rights- IFJ statement at WIPO SCCR

There has been much talk of "rebalancing" authors' rights. On the proposed broadcasting treaty, the IFJ shares the concern that the Committee's mandate is to consider the protection of "the signal" and believes that very extensive further work is required to deal with the questions raised by the convergence of broadcasting and networking, which are of course fundamental to the protection of journalistic works.

Looking ahead to exceptions and limitations: too often, those who speak of "rebalancing" really mean weakening the rights of authors, in favour of their sponsors. To do so in the case of education, for example, raises serious questions about how education is to be achieved.

It is commonly held that education is a public good. Some are tempted to argue from this that it should therefore have cost-free access to its primary "raw material", which is works of authorship. But that is a disguised promotion of a shift in the fundamental nature of education.

It is commonly agreed that education should be an independent quest to extend and to impart knowledge. That requires not only access to works expressing knowledge, but to specialist educational works. The requirement of independence argues very strongly against those works being funded by patronage or by sponsorship - against them being the product of political, religious, or commercial interest groups, or just those with an idée fixe who write and edit for free.

The inventor of the modern dictionary, Samuel Johnson, summed up this argument succinctly: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." The question confronting education is: "whose money?"

The only known way to provide independent educational materials is to pay for them, at the point of delivery, so that their authors (and, increasingly, performers) may be paid for the work they do, not for promoting someone else's message.

The International Federation of Journalists agrees that there is a place for collective licensing of works that are re-used for educational purposes. The model by which certain exceptions to authors' rights operate only in the absence of a collective licensing scheme, has much to commend it, compensating authors for the reduction in opportunities to syndicate their work to new publications and territories.

But the heart of the issue is this: many authors of educational works are told by their publishers that they must sign over all rights in their works, or not be paid at all. In other words, contracts are imposed upon them with no negotiation. 

One of the effects of this is that many such authors must do other work to survive. If that other work is journalism - and many are represented by member unions of the International Federation of Journalists - the independence of their educational work may survive. In other cases it may be compromised.

It must remain possible to make an independent living as an author of educational works; and to get fair recompense for works used in education. This will require revisiting the fairness of contracts between authors and performers and those intermediaries that distribute their works, including those who distribute them to schools and colleges - and broadcasters.

It is time for WIPO to seek genuine balance - and indeed to initiate positive action to "promote through international cooperation the creation, dissemination, use and protection of works of the human spirit for the economic, cultural and social progress of all mankind".1

1 Mission statement of the World Intellectual Property Organization. The IFJ recommends writing "... all humanity".