To Celebrate World IP Day—An Interesting Copyright Conversation


As most readers of this blog are aware, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has declared each April 26 to be “World IP Day”. Why April 26? This was the date on which WIPO was established back in 1970. According to WIPO, World IP Day, which was first celebrated 17 years ago in 2000, is celebrated in order “to learn about the role that intellectual property rights (patents, trademarks, industrial designs, copyright) play in encouraging innovation and creativity.” The event is loosely connected to “World Book and Copyright Day” celebrated by UNESCO each April 23 (the birthday of both Shakespeare and Cervantes).

To mark World IP day this year, I joined a webinar initiated and hosted by Lesley Ellen Harris, Founder and CEO of Lesley Ellen, a lawyer and author, founded this website some 20 years ago as a resource for people operating in the copyright world—creators, owners, distributors and managers of content (such as librarians), and consumers of content. She runs a number of online certificate courses on both US and Canadian copyright law to provide people with practical information regarding copyright and how to use it, how to avoid the pitfalls and how to protect one’s copyright. A list of recent graduates from Lesley Ellen’s Certificate in Canadian Copyright Law included people from a range of occupations and institutions, including public and university librarians, people from the insurance and banking industries, defence, the museum world, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, an art gallery and a teaching resources centre. Such is the range of occupations and professions where individuals feel the need for a greater familiarity with copyright, and how it works. Lesley is clearly meeting an important need. The website is also a good source of information on copyright in general terms and provides practical advice, such as “6 tips for legally using images”.

On April 26, Lesley Ellen took the initiative to host a “Global Engagement Copyright Conversation” and invited people “out there” to join the conversation to consider three questions;

  • why copyright matters to you
  • celebrating what we have in common copyright-wise with others around the globe
  • sharing how to make others aware of copyright (whether you are a creator/owner or consumer of copyright materials)

Some thirty people joined by voice and video mainly from around the US and Canada, but also from Europe, and like the people on Lesley’s course, they represented a variety of interests and professions. A number were either from university or college libraries, publishing houses or corporations. Some were artists or creators. All agreed that “copyright matters”, whether one is an artist or author with a direct stake in protecting a work, or someone working in the industry by providing content to others, for example in publishing or educational institutions. A concern that several raised in the discussion was the quandary of how to say “no” to people in their institutions or companies who wanted to use copyrighted material in an inappropriate or even illegal way and who didn’t like the answer provided. There were various means proposed to deal with “irate users”, from ensuring that an institution or company has a clear policy on use of IP (which could be pointed to and used as a deterrent if necessary), to escalation to more senior levels, to issuing a reprimand for violation of policy guidelines. It is not all stick and no carrot however. In some cases, a confrontation can turn into a “teachable moment”, providing the opportunity to expand a user’s understanding of what can, and cannot, be done within the rules of fair dealing and fair use.

It was also agreed that education and awareness is an important part of understanding the correct application of copyright and that practitioners have an obligation to “spread the word” and to share information. “Lunch and learn” sessions for colleagues were mentioned as one avenue, establishment of easily accessible FAQs was another, proper onboarding and indoctrination of new staff yet another. Even something as simple as posting a reminder about appropriate use on the wall over the photocopy machine can be an effective tool. The session acted as a chance to realize that others face similar issues in their professional lives regarding how to deal with copyright issues, and offered a platform to share some best practices.

There are many ways to celebrate World IP Day. WIPO has a number of creative ideas on its website, such as an IP Quiz, videos, educational materials that can be downloaded for free etc. There were events on April 26 being organized world-wide, from places as far-flung as Iceland, Nigeria, China, New Zealand, the US, Russia—seminars, conferences, broadcasts, trade shows, and so on. WIPO has a menu of “suggested activities” which range from exhibitions to public performances and debates to photo competitions, podcasts and social media campaigns. This is all good grist to the mill.

There are many ways of highlighting the importance of IP to our daily lives, and within the broader IP framework the particular importance of copyright as a vehicle to promote creativity. Appreciation of the importance of copyright, awareness of its purpose and how to use it, and the questions that arise as copyright and the digital world come to an (uneasy) accommodation—all these are topics worth sharing among practitioners. The high profile public events in national capitals were one face of IP day; individually initiated and more modest activities, such as the webinar that Lesley Ellen organized were another, but all were components of the larger picture. I, for one, was glad to participate and be part of the larger exercise on April 26. Thank you, Lesley Ellen Harris.

© Hugh Stephens 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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