Notes from Monday's PIJIP Event on "Copyright From an International Perspective"

Matilda Bilstein
September 24, 2009

At PIJIP’s event, “Copyright from an International Perspective,” WCL Professors Michael Carroll and Peter Jaszi were joined by Michele Woods, Senior Counsel for Policy and International Affairs at the Office of Policy and International Affairs at US Copyright Office. 

Click here to view the webcast.

Professor Jaszi began the panel with a quick introduction to copyright law and the international copyright system.  He discussed copyright law’s early beginning in eighteenth century England and its gradual spread throughout the world, culminating in the TRIPS Agreement.  The adoption of TRIPS demonstrated the interest of copyright holders in subsuming intellectual property rights within the larger framework of international trade norms. 

According to Jaszi, international copyright treaties address three main issues: international recognition of rights across borders based on national treatment; minimum standards for copyright protection; and the limitations to copyrights.  When it comes to copyright limitations, countries that are net exporters of copyrighted goods negotiate with the goal of raising copyright protection standards up to those found in their own laws.  However, these countries (such as the US and Great Britain) do not emphasize the limitations on rights found in their own laws, such as fair use and fair dealing provisions.  These limitations are important because the next generation of creators and culture-makers need reasonable levels of information access. 

However, this may be changing.  The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which functions as a UN Secretariat for international intellectual property treaties like the Berne Convention, is required to allow input from all stakeholders.  This includes input from developing countries and the NGO-based access to knowledge movement which urges WIPO to think about the need for international norms for limitations and exceptions to copyrights. 

Furthermore, WIPO’s Agenda Setting body, the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, is opening discussions on new norms for specific limitations to copyright in areas like educational use, transformative use, and use by specialized communities. The first issue on its agenda is limitations and exceptions to copyright for the purpose of enhancing access to copyrighted work for the hundreds of millions of people who are blind, have had strokes, or have learning disabilities.

Next, Ms. Woods discussed the role of the US Copyright Office in the international copyright system.  Its Office of Policy and International Affairs works with Congress and agencies in the executive branch, such as the Departments of State and Commerce, and the US Trade Representative.  The Office’s international work is divided up into different areas: (1) bilateral relationships with other countries regarding copyright issues; (2) representation of the US in international organizations; (3) domestic policy issues that intersect with international ones; (4) international treaties like WIPO and the Berne Convention, especially as they relate to audiovisual works and new technologies; and (5) involvement in international trade issues – including advice on enforcement issues that come up under various treaty obligations. The Office is working on a number of issues regarding the blind and visually impaired and the US national experience. It is also working to enhance copyright protection for audiovisual works and broadcast signals.  Additionally, the Office is involved in policy debates regarding orphan works legislation and the Google Book Search settlement.

Professor Carroll discussed the effect of the internet on the copyright system.  The internet is a global medium that does not recognize the system of national boundaries, and issues arise when an international legal system that relies on national borders and territorial treatment of cultural works meets these new technologies. The US has moved away from copyright registration formalities and towards more automatic copyrights, and digital technology has allowed for the production, consumption, and distribution of millions of works of all types.   A problem arises with the copyright system’s one-size-fits-all approach, which treats these different types of works as equally copyrightable and grants them the same terms of protection.  Carroll co-founded a group called Creative Commons, which pointed out that one size does not fit all, and that many creators have different motivations for their works and the amount of control they want over it. 

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