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JILT 1997 (3) - LIBER

Annual General Conference of LIBER 1997

Pre Conference Session
Likely developments in European Copyright Legislation

1 July 1997

Reviewed by
Frederick Friend
University College London

This is a Conference Report published on 31 October 1997.

Citation: Friend F, 'Annual General Conference of LIBER 1997', Conference Report, 1997 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

The Annual General Conference of LIBER (Ligue des Bibliotheques Europeennes de Recherche) began in Bern on 1 July 1997 with a very valuable Pre-Conference session on likely developments in European copyright legislation. For good or ill, the European Commission has been taking a great deal of interest in copyright, viewing copyright as an area in which national boundaries need to be broken down. As electronic text does not stop to be inspected at border custom posts, it is difficult to quarrel with this feeling, although we all hope that a Europe-wide copyright policy really will help the flow of information and not introduce new restrictions. The importance of the libraries in membership of LIBER enabled the organisers of the Pre-Conference to attract top-level speakers.

The first speaker was Mr. Jukka Liedes of the Ministry of Education in Finland. Mr. Liedes chaired the WIPO Copyright Conference in Geneva last December. He described the various rights that were or were not covered in the WIPO Treaty (to be found at ). His view was that although the right of reproduction was not agreed as part of the Treaty, the Bern Convention provision would continue and that it could cover temporary (electronic) reproduction as well as permanent reproduction, at least until national legislation covered the issue. His view of the right of communication was that the Bern provisions had been extended by WIPO, including the right of members of the public to access at a distance, although the next stage will be to explore limitations to the communication right. All this sounds very up-beat from a librarian's or academic's point of view, but notice the qualifications about 'national legislation' and 'the next stage'. These were two of several qualifications introduced by the first three speakers, who were all politicians (let the reader understand). Mr. Liedes said that library and academic organizations have already played a useful part in the international copyright discussions, and he hoped that they would continue to do so. Whatever our view of the successes or failures at WIPO, it is clear that we must keep up the pressure to ensure that fair dealing and library privileges are maintained in the electronic era.

The second speaker, Dr. Jorge Reinbothe, also tried to reassure us but also left us feeling uneasy. Dr. Reinbothe is in a key position in the European Commission, effectively drafting a new EU Directive on Copyright which will appear in the autumn. The Green Paper of 1988 was the first stage in the EU's consideration of copyright, and five Directives are now appearing on specific topics. Emanuella Giavarra has alerted librarians to the dangers posed by one of those Directives through the European Copyright Users' Platform list which she manages so successfully, and we shall be watching the wording of future Directives very carefully. The purpose of the Directive currently in preparation is to achieve 'harmonisation' (EU-speak for persuading 15 different countries to agree) on reproduction rights, communication to the public, abuse of copyright and distribution rights. The problem Dr. Reinbothe and his colleagues have is in harmonising the exceptions to the rights, some of which may apply in some Member States but not in others. Possible exceptions would be in favour of the handicapped, for short excerpts needed for reporting of current events, for 'technologically indispensable reproductions', and - crucial to academic institutions - for research purposes, educational purposes and library use. Dr. Reinbothe sounded reassuring but was difficult to pin down on specifics, so EU librarians should not be complacent.

The third speaker was Mr. Helge Sonneland of the Norwegian Ministry of Cultural Affairs who agreed with Dr. Liedes is stressing the importance to the library world of the WIPO right of communication to the public. He thought that it would be possible for national legislation to maintain in the electronic era the balance of interests existing with regard to copyright in paper publications, although (always there is a qualification) libraries cannot expect an automatic transfer from the analogue to the digital environment. The view of many librarians is that there is no reason why the principles of fair use or fair dealing in current legislation should not be applied to electronic publication, although we recognize that the regulations for the application of those principles will be different from the regulations we work to for publications on paper. M. Sonneland was also in favour of further dialogue 'based on mutual respect and understanding', and it must be through such dialogue that a 'modus vivendi' between authors, publishers and librarians is achieved.

If we were tempted to go to sleep after three heavyweight speakers in an afternoon, Emanuella Giavarra immediately woke us up with her opening statement for the fourth presentation: 'We should worry; our future is at stake'. Emanuella - who has done so much to raise awareness of the copyright issue in Europe - went on to state in a plainer way than we had heard from other speakers that WIPO's descriptions of rights and exceptions can be applied in a way that is beneficial to users of libraries, and that EU or national legislation should not be allowed to dilute that beneficial effect. What we need, Emanuella rightly said, is clear language from governments, without the need for court cases to interpret that language. Those of us older and cynical may say 'some hope!', and certainly we should worry. There is still much to do.

What we should be doing in Europe is lobbying Members of the European Parliament and our own national parliaments to ensure that fair dealing and library privileges are incorporated without any ambiguity in any future legislation. I believe that we should also be doing more of what our American colleagues have been doing in raising awareness in the academic community of the importance of copyright changes to scholarly communication. I doubt if many members of the academic community in the UK, for example, realise the danger that they will lose fair dealing and the practical consequences that loss would have for their teaching and research. As librarians we are aware of the danger and we must raise the profile of such issues. LIBER performed a great service to the academic comunity in organising such a powerful meeting on a vital topic. It is important that the momentum created by such a discussion is not wasted.

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