Meera Nair

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In Posts on December 17, 2009 at 11:31 am

My 145 little ones are (I hope) now settled for their winter break. Better late than not at all is this anniversary reminder.

10 December 2009 marked the 61st anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Included among the articles of the Declaration are:

Article 27.1: Everyone has a right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in the scientific advancement and its benefits.
Article 27.2: Everyone has a right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific theory, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

These seemingly incompatible rights are jointly fulfilled through the function of limited copyright. However, the challenge of securing Articles 27.1 and 27.2 at a global level is exacerbated by differing cultural traditions and legal regimes, unevenly positioned trade policies, and changing flows of information enjoyed (or despised) through digital technologies and world wide networks.

Copyright, as defined by law, is limited. Yet the perception continues to be otherwise. Which is why it is heartening to see a positive statement from the United States on the merit of limited copyright. Their recent submission to the World Intellectual Property Organization, courtesy of Jamie Love (thank you), is here. While the U.S. message focuses on persons with print disabilities, the opening remarks offer some support for the merit of the individual rights of fair dealing and fair use; rights that are applicable to all persons. To paraphrase:

The United States is proud to have a series of specific exceptions and limitations in our copyright law, including for education, libraries, and persons with print disabilities.

The law of the United States has these exceptions because we believe access to information, cultural expression, and ideas is essential and we know that governments have a role to play in facilitating that access and reducing barriers to information, education and full participation in a democratic society. So while the United States believes profoundly, in the words of our Supreme Court, that copyright law is “the engine of free expression,” we are also committed to policies that ensure everyone has a chance to get the information and education they need and to live independently as full citizens in their communities.

A good place to move forward from…

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