IP, technology, human rights

Copyright and Human Rights

Posted by Lea on March 18, 2015

Farida Shaheed and Lea Shaver.

Farida Shaheed and Lea Shaver in Geneva

For more than a year, I’ve been working closely with Farida Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. Our work has led to two reports, one on copyright and one on patents, examining their implications for the right to science and culture.

The first report, Copyright Policy and the Right to Science and Culture, was filed with the UN Human Rights Council in December. In March, UN member states had their say on the copyright report.

The report unapologetically adopts a human rights framework for normatively evaluating copyright policy. This means a concern both for the human rights of individual authors, and for the human rights of readers, listeners, and other audiences.

The report emphasizes that the human right of protection of authorship requires both more and less than current copyright frameworks, and that protection must always be balanced with concern for equitable access and broad participation.

Content industry representatives were active in attempting to influence the report. There were more civil society filings during the drafting of this report than anything else the Special Rapporteur worked on in her six-year term. These came largely from publisher, film, and music trade associations, rather than from human rights organizations.

Yet the final report’s assertive human rights perspective differed greatly from the industry perspective. This gap prompted significant criticism from member states in Europe and the United States.

The report’s recommendations hold significant power to shift the political conversation, because they focus on questioning how well copyright policy ultimately serves artists and audiences.

Indeed, the report has already been integrated into the copyright reform proposal of European Parliamentarian Julia Reda for the Committee on Legal Affairs.

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