Meeting the Copyright Council in Uruguay

This is the second of my blog posts about my recent visit to Montevideo, Uruguay, this time focusing on my meeting with copyright experts at the National Library of Uruguay. In my earlier post I reflected on the course I taught at the Universidad de la Republica.

Before I went to Uruguay I read up on their copyright laws. The study carried out by Kenny Crews for WIPO in 2017 on limitations and exceptions to copyright around the world was particular useful background reading. The entry is rather brief, with the ominous words at the top ‘The copyright statutes of Uruguay include no explicit library exceptions.’ Now I’m not one to doubt Kenny Crews, but surely things were not that bad?  However, what was interesting, and what I learnt through my meetings with the Uruguayan Library Association’s President, Alicia Ocaso, and also with Patricia Diaz, a lawyer at the University of the Republic, is that this is entirely true. Uruguay have almost no exceptions for libraries and education. Alicia has been a member of IFLA’s Copyright and other Legal Matters Advisory Committee, she also often attends WIPO SCCR meeting and has been campaigning for many years to try to address the situation in her country and in Latin America.

I felt honoured to be invited to meet with the Uruguayan Copyright Council, at the National Library, in the head of the national library’s office. The Copyright Council have been working for reform to the Uruguayan copyright act, which dates from 1937, for many years. The Council is advisor to the President of the Republic of Uruguay on copyright issues. The group were directly designated by the Ministry of Education and Culture for 5 years and cover different areas related to copyright including libraries, writers and musicians. They don’t represent those collectives but come from them and belong to the Council on a personal basis. During the meeting I learnt the attempts to introduce exceptions into the law by copyright users (libraries and education) are blocked by rights holders, largely from the music and publishing industry. It’s not a sustainable situation, where not only is copying for teaching purposes prevented, technically libraries cannot even lend books. It’s no surprise that the lobbying movement has recently been extended to students, who have their own response to this situation, through setting up copy shops and a copyright reform campaign called  #Derechoaestudiar (the ‘Right to Study’). The Copyright Council members were really interested to hear about the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) arrangements in the UK. However, before considering introducing similar licensing schemes in Uruguay the group were clear that the country needs to ensure they have statutory exceptions for things we take for granted in the UK.

The National Library was founded in 1815 (and celebrated it’s 200 year anniversary in 2015), and the meeting was an opportunity for me to speak to the Copyright Council about the concept of copyright literacy. I met the President of the Copyright Council, Silvia Perez Diaz  and Jose Antonio Villamil who are both lawyers. The two members of the Council who were missing interestingly were both people who represent rightsholders. I took along my ‘copyright exceptions’ t-shirt and Copyright the Card Game, both of which served to highlight the stark differences in UK and Uruguayan copyright law, specifically on the matter of exceptions. Alicia had been keen to arrange a workshop for librarians as part of my visit, and this had taken place two days before the meeting, when we had played Copyright the Card Game with around 100 librarians. She told the Copyright Council that she felt education was vital to help highlight the need for copyright reform. This has been the message that IFLA are keen to promote, that without both copyright education and lobbying, copyright reform is unlikely to take place.  Copyright users and librarians in Uruguay are frustrated because the attempts to get reform through the parliament keep being stopped, mainly by rights holders, which means many of their activities to provide access to content are either severely hampered or technically illegal. They have just two exceptions in their law related to education and libraries and these are not very useful for online learning.

The group felt that in the absence of getting reform to the law, copyright literacy could play an important role in educating librarians in Uruguay. I was honoured to meet Esther Pailos, the head of the National Library, who not only is the first woman to hold the office, but the first qualified librarian to be head of the National Library. She thinks copyright is very important for librarians because of the need to try and digitise collections, which can’t really happen at the moment legally. During the meeting we were all excited to learn that IFLA were about to launch their statement on Copyright Literacy and we discussed the idea of Uruguay being the first country to adopt the IFLA Copyright Literacy statement. Alicia pointed out that Latin America have been leading the way in WIPO, pushing for reform, despite the Uruguayan situation with their very old law.

I was fascinated to hear how access to resources seems to be one of the biggest issues in Uruguay, partly because of copyright restrictions, but also because some titles are just not available in their country under licence agreements. It was clear that their budgets and consortium arrangements are nothing like those that a UK academic library would have.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for Copyright the Card Game and Alicia said the workshop I ran proved that the game works for librarians in Uruguay. With that in mind they would like to adapt and translate it. I left them a set of cards, as they wanted to understand how the game works (not everyone had been at Tuesday’s session) They talked about whether the OER centre (NucleoREA) that Virginia coordinates at the University could help to develop a course for librarians. I shared the ideas that we have to develop a course in the UK, taught partly online and they really liked this idea. We also talked about how copyright literacy related to the other teaching that librarians do in the information literacy field.

Overall it was a great opportunity to meet representatives of this organisation and a real treat to visit the Uruguayan National Library (I do love a national library!). And since my visit I’ve been reflecting on the differences between the law in the UK, with our many exceptions to copyright, and thinking how important it is to emphasise the value of ‘library privilege’ to UK librarians.

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