Hard Times Ahead For Rights Holders? IPR High On Brussels Agenda Before Recess

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At a little-publicised annual meeting of the Transatlantic Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Working Group in Brussels this week representatives of the European Commission, several United States agencies and rights holder agreed that there might be tough times ahead for IPRs and rights holders. Meanwhile, the Commission is under pressure on copyright exceptions for visually impaired readers on the eve of a World Intellectual Property Organization meeting. And the Commission this week introduced new rules on collective societies aimed at easing user access to content.

Where IP rights once was a field for experts, now it drives the masses to the streets, the European Commission said referring to recent protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Without a much stronger commitment from rights holders, the rejection of ACTA would just be the beginning, Commission representatives said according to observers.

George York, deputy assistant to the US Trade Representative for IP and Innovation, and Susan Wilson, director of the Office of Intellectual Property Rights in the US Department of Commerce, confirmed during the meeting that despite ACTA’s failure in the EU, the ratification process would go on in the US, despite concerns by some experts about potential inconsistencies with US laws. The EU Commission confirmed its determination to wait for the European Court of Justice’s ruling on ACTA before deciding on next steps for the treaty voted down by Parliament earlier this month.

Some information on the Transatlantic IPR WG meeting is here.

There seems to be little appetite in the administrations of either side to reconsider ACTA and potential problems with the treaty, David Hammerstein, former Green Party Parliament member and now adviser to the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), told Intellectual Property Watch.

Jean-Luc Demarty, the director general of the Trade Directorate of the European Commission, said at the meeting with regard to question of a potential split of counterfeiting and copyright piracy, IPR could not just be for bags and t-shirts.

Meeting participants also were highly sceptical about open access to scientific data and scientific publications. The latter was said to undermine peer review and the publishing business by publishers. Hammerstein said he was surprised to see Commission representatives sceptical on open access after earlier decisions by the Commission had laid out an open access strategy for research funded by the EU and a recent open data strategy from Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

More concerns from the rights holder side were related to a recent ruling by the Indian Patent Office to grant a first compulsory licence on the “Sorafenib tosylate” drug patent by Bayer (IPW, Public Health, 12 March 2012). Parts of that decision had raised “alarm bells” in both the US and the EU administration, officials expressed during the meeting. And the IP chapter of the EU-India Free Trade Agreement (one of more than half a dozen FTAs under consideration in the EU) still needs work, EU officials said.

Administrations and rights holders were also somewhat wary about developments at the World Intellectual Property Organization, Hammerstein reported. Both administrations see the need for vigilance regarding the “somewhat tricky” provisions sought in a treaty on limitations and exceptions for archives and libraries at WIPO, he said.

EP Petitions Committee Wants Limitations for Visually Impaired

Clear support for the long-discussed treaty on limitations and exceptions for visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities yesterday was requested by the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament. The Petitions Committee announced it would send a letter to EU co-legislators to push for a clear commitment after a session with the European Blind Union, the World Blind Union and the European Dyslexia Association, the European Commission and the new Cyprus EU presidency.

Members of the Petitions Committee from all party groups were enraged by the slow pace, and the lack of a negotiating mandate for the Commission just before the critical session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) next week. They asked the Cyprus presidency to name and shame those member states in the EU that so far have blocked the issue.

“We need a binding treaty, we can’t keep going along this route of a voluntary agreement as it is not working,” Green Party Member Eva Lichtenberger said during the session of the petitions committee.

A year ago, the Commission and member states presented a non-binding alternative at WIPO. Chris Friend from the World Blind Union and Dan Pescod from the European Blind Union therefore yesterday in Brussels urged the European Commission and Presidency to now commit to negotiate a binding treaty.

A representative of Cyprus underlined that the dossier was a priority during the Cyprus presidency and, in a first exchange of opinions between member states last week, no member state expressed scepticism despite earlier preferences for voluntary approaches by some governments.

The Commission on 8 June passed the decision to ask for a negotiating mandate, according to Maria Martin-Prat, head of the Commission copyright unit. That the Commission had to travel to the SCCR session next week without a mandate granted by the Council was no problem, she said. It was necessary only for the diplomatic conference, about which the WIPO General Assembly in September would have the final say.

Yet failure next week in Geneva could lead to another postponement of the diplomatic conference, a binding treaty and the continued “book famine” for visually impaired people, warned Friend.

The EBU published a map of EU country positions on the WIPO treaty proposal so far, available here.

New Commission Directive on Collective Rights Management

Separately, Michel Barnier, Commissioner for Internal Market and Services who is in charge of the visually impaired treaty, was busy proposing another document intended to help access to content in the Union. On 11 July, Barnier presented the long awaited draft directive on “collective management of copyright and related rights and multi-territorial licensing of rights in musical works for online uses in the internal market” [pdf].

The lengthy directive addresses two core issues: more transparency and accountability for the 250 collective rights management companies in the Union, for example, through annual reporting obligations, with clear-cut deadlines for payment to artists. The second issue is the possibility of multi-territorial licensing, which collecting societies have to realise or outsource to larger partner societies or intermediaries – or if they opt to not grant such licences allow artists to hand over to another company/society.

Barnier underlined during a press conference that the collective rights management societies had to adapt to the digital market. As currently there are some countries with only five digital music providers, it is “no surprise that the young consumers look elsewhere.” IP and copyright must benefit creators, but also citizens, said Barnier, who has been a strong advocate of more IP enforcement regulation in recent years.

Perhaps legislators still have not got the balance in IP quite right, the US Ambassador to the EU, William E. Kennard, said in his luncheon speech during the Transatlantic IPR Working Group.

Monika Ermert may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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  1. says

    In the 18 JUN 2012 zine.openreightsgroup.org Mr. Dan Pescod made the following observation:

    “(Firstly,) there is a strong publisher lobby against the treaty in influential countries such as France and Germany especially. The publishers have not opposed our treaty because they feel that it lacks merit, but rather because they fear that it would set a precedent for other international treaties providing exceptions to copyright for other groups.”

    Also on the WIPO SCCR 24 agenda is a proposal for limitations and exceptions for libraries (23/5 with discussion at 23/8 Prov.) which the publishers MAY fear more the Visually Impaired treaty initiative.

  2. kbingh says

    The people are taking to the streets due to the over-reach of rights-holders and governments that has shown a willingness to subornate human rights as well as freedom of speech to copyrights.

    To suggest that the answer is for rights-holders to ratchet it up even further is only going to continue to inflame the public.


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