Copyright and Coronavirus: IPA at WIPO’s ‘SCCR’ Sessions

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Effects of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on world copyright issues was a key focus at WIPO’s 42nd SCCR meetings.

From the International Publishers Association at a session of the 2022 World Intellectual Property Organization’s SCCR, are, from left, James Taylor, IPA communications and freedom to publish lead; Bodour Al Qasimi, IPA president; and José Borghino, IPA secretary-general. Image: Nabs Ahmedi

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Comparative Effects in the Creative Industries
One of the most interesting results of this year’s sessions of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights last month at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva (WIPO) is a new report, The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Creative Industries, Cultural Institutions, Education, and Research.

The world of international policy organizations is intensely fond of its acronyms, and the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights is referred to simply as “SCCR.” The International Publishers Association (IPA), also based in Geneva, is the book-publishing body that represents the world industry at this sequence of discussions. So, in non-governmental organization (NGO) parlance, the IPA goes to WIPO’s SCCR as the NGO  for publishing.

As you may recall, the SCCR 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. It’s a kind of summit of international stakeholders in industries in which copyright is important.

This year’s 42nd iteration of the SCCR meetings—always a days-long affair—was the first held in person since 2019 because of the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

The SCCR’s 67-page Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic report is a broader look at issues, some of them directly handled for the publishing industry in its own Inspire Charter report, A Collective Commitment to a Sustainable, Resilient, and Inclusive Future. 

Several points made in the contextual analysis on Pages 5 and 6 of the SCCR report are especially useful.

One of them—as unhappy as it makes us to read it—has to do with the potential for unfinished business relative to the current pandemic: “Far from being an imminent or emerging crisis, it is a sustained crisis: it can last for months or years, over a very long crisis existence phase, and also [be a] cyclical crisis as well because of the different contagious waves.”

The element that publishers are most familiar with, in SCCR terms, is this: “If on one hand, COVID-19 disrupted the market and business ecosystems we traditionally know, on the other hand it has accelerated innovation, introducing the so-called ‘imposed service innovation.'” In publishing, of course, we’ve used the common term “digital acceleration” for this—an “imposed” (indeed) need to muster digital alternatives most particularly in book retail in all formats, but also, for many, in distribution where ebook and audiobook formats were less well established.

And there’s the upbeat part of that digital acceleration: “This specific crisis created a change of mindset and stimulated business opportunities that would never have been considered under normal circumstances.” That one is answered at the International Publishers Association, of course, by its introduction of the IPA Academy, developed with Sharjah Book Authority, New York University’s School of Professional Studies’ Center for Publishing in the States; Oxford Brookes University at the Headington Campus in Oxford; and the charity Publishing Training Centre based in London.

What Publishing Perspectives readers may find interesting in the report is the look at effects on the audiovisual sector, the music sector, visual arts, museums, and libraries—”nearby” creative industries, each of which has had its own path, to first understanding and then trying to respond to the impact of this protracted emergency. In so many ways, those sister industries’ struggles ran parallel to those of the book business. As bookstores closed, so did art galleries, museums, and auction houses. This, as the roughly half of the music industry’s business was shuttered, as concerts, festivals, tours, and solo performances were cancelled.

Copyright issues in audiovisual abruptly intensified surfaced as the drive toward digitally distributed entertainment in Africa suffered what’s estimated to have been at least a 50-percent loss in potential revenue, the report says, because of “illegal exploitation of creative audiovisual content”—piracy.

Not surprisingly, a line in the report’s conclusion reads, “More attention should be paid to developing e-resources that should respect copyright as a whole, including facilitating uses through licensing, of material in educational and research settings. This could limit piracy damages in crisis times and support the development of local industries while paying attention to creators.”

Al Qasimi: To ‘Recover From the Setbacks’

A round-table discussion during an information session on the coronavirus pandemic and copyright at the World Intellectual Property Organizaiton’s 42nd SCCR week. Image: WIPO, Emmanuel Berrod

This year, IPA president Bodour Al Qasimi spoke to the SCCR assembly, praising “the vital importance of global copyright frameworks in boosting the role of the publishing industry in cultivating literacy, transmitting cultural heritage, fostering cross-cultural understanding, supporting diversity, advancing education, and protecting local and minority languages.”

Copyright frameworks provided by WIPO’s work over the years, Al Qasimi said, have “enabled publishers around the world to invest in authors and make literature, peer-reviewed research, and educational learning solutions available even during the pandemic.”

In terms of the piracy issues that plague many of the world’s publishing markets–often with limited and lackluster efforts from law enforcement to help–Al Qasimi called for effective enforcement of copyright protections to shield publishers from “physical and online piracy and to boost the publication of indigenous educational resources and ‘homegrown’ authors.”

Referencing the progress made in the articulation of the Inspire Charter, Al Qasimi described the program’s intention of “helping stakeholders of the publishing industry including authors, illustrators, printers, distributors, booksellers, libraries, and retailers, recover from the setbacks experienced during the pandemic.”

During the course of the SCCR sessions, Al Qasimi held meetings with Daren Tang, WIPO’s director-general, and with Lubna QassimAl Bastaki, who is the deputy permanent representative to the United Nations from the UAE.

Included in this year’s IPA delegation to the SCCR sessions were association members from Belgium, Brazil, India, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. WIPO provides video records of morning and afternoon blocks during the SCCR sessions as part of its overall collection, and you can find the opening morning session here.

James Taylor, the IPA’s lead on communications and freedom to publish, has insightful and often droll notes on each of the five long days of the SCCR sessions this year, and you can find them here.

IPA president Bodour Al Qasimi met with Daren Tang, WIPO director-general, during the 42nd SCCR sessions in Geneva. Image: WIPO

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.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s global media partner.

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.