By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘The Publishing Industry Stepped Up Yet Again’Today (July 1), four days of meetings of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) “SCCR” are closing. They’ve been held as a series of hybrid presentations emanating from WIPO headquarters in Geneva. This week’s sequence was the 41st in the SCCR program.
“SCCR” is NGO shorthand for the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. Its meetings bring together the views and perceived pressure points of international delegates on copyright, not only as it pertains to books and publishing but also to broadcast, archives, libraries, theatrical production, and more.
In the sequence of meetings just concluding, the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) secretary-general, José Borghino, has made a statement, a copy of which has been obtained by Publishing Perspectives.
“In the midst of COVID,” Borghino has told the WIPO delegates, the IPA highlights the time-tested importance of the global copyright framework provided by the WIPO treaties, which enables publishers everywhere to invest in authors and serve the public interest by making literature, peer-reviewed research, and educational learning solutions available to consumers, scientists, educators, students and other readers.”
One of the key messages Borghino touches on is that although the world publishing industry needs copyright regulation to remain stable, dependable, and supported by enforcement, there are times and opportunities for flexibility—as has been seen during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic when educational publishers opted into special permissions that allowed teachers to use copyrighted texts in online teaching scenarios that might normally not be written into a license.
As the virus’ initial outbreaks were hitting markets in March 2020, for example, Copyright Clearance Center had opened an “educational continuity license” for such special use of copyrighted content for publishers to sign onto, allowing teachers to work with students who had been suddenly sent home from school.
“In the past year,” Borghino said, “as people adapted to home-working and home-schooling, and as states sought reliable scientific data on which to base policies to protect their citizens, the publishing community stepped up yet again to support governments, teachers, parents and the public. Many of our initiatives are presented on WIPO’s COVID-19 Policy Tracker.
“Publishers also had to adapt. Despite many publishers’ investments in digital books, a vast majority had to absorb significant financial losses due to the closure of bookshops and the disruption caused to school systems.”
If anything, that sudden flight to digital and e-commerce, that “digital acceleration” we talk about, exposes much more content to piracy in the online space.
‘Vital to a Sustainable Publishing Industry’
In speaking to WIPO’s SCCR this week, Borghino said, “Copyright and its effective enforcement are vital to a sustainable publishing industry everywhere but are even more essential in developing countries where publishers and authors were hardest hit by the pandemic.
“In Africa, for example, publishers do not invest in digital formats for fear that the devastating physical piracy they already experience will be even worse if they transitioned to digital.”
And as Ahmed Rashad, a board member of the Egyptian Publishers Association—a member-association of IPA—told us in an interview for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, “The market in the region was basically not prepared enough to accept the idea of reading online through platforms such as Amazon, Google, and so on. That issue arrived on top of the small number of services we have that sell print books and deliver them to homes. So in many cases, we were without the digital ‘magic solution’ which, in other parts of the world, was helping publishers withstand the pandemic.”
What was happening was that markets not yet fluent in online commerce were struggling to come up to speed, but often without the kind of copyright clarity and enforcement they needed —and still need—to defend their rights against piracy.
“Publishing requires constant innovation, investment and risk-taking,” Borghino said at WIPO. “Publishers need a clear legal framework with appropriate exclusive rights and effective enforcement to enable them to do so with confidence.
“We invite member-states to enhance dialogues with their creative industries and reflect their priorities on the SCCR agenda. While limitations and exceptions might be necessary, they require careful calibration at national levels.”
There’s a warning here, and Borghino spelled it out this way: “Overbroad limitations and exceptions impair the investments required for continued cultural production and will inevitably have unintended destructive effects, undermining local creative industries and preventing authors, especially in developing countries, from bringing their creations to the world.
“Publishing requires constant innovation, investment and risk-taking. Publishers need a clear legal framework with appropriate exclusive rights and effective enforcement to enable them to do so with confidence.
“The IPA,” he concluded, “remains committed to support publishers around the world to perform their important role of making books available to readers, ensuring the voices of local authors from every country continue to be heard.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on copyright is here, more on WIPO is here, and more on the International Publishers Association is here. Publishing Perspectives is the media partner for the International Publishers Association.
More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.