Reading Time: 5 minutes

Educators, Libraries & Researchers Praise President Biden for Endorsing Waiver of All IP for COVID in WTO TRIPS Waiver

More than 250 organizations and experts organizations called for the temporary reduction of copyright barriers to COVID-19 prevention, containment and treatment

Washington, D.C. – Today educators, researchers, libraries, academics and other advocates praised President Biden, USTR Ambassador Katherine Tai and the Administration for formally supporting the WTO TRIPS waiver, including for copyright.

“By supporting a waiver of ‘intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines,’ not just of patents, the statement would presumably extend, for example, to the copyright protection that can exist on computational algorithms needed to produce mRNA vaccines. It is less clear whether the Administration’s support extends to access to copyright for other needed activities, such as to repair software enabled devices or to enable text and data mining research. Clearly, however, this is a great advance for the cause of ensuring that intellectual property bends to the public interest, not the other way around.” said Sean Flynn, Director of American University’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property.

Last month, over 250 research and education organizations around the world called on the WTO to endorse a TRIPS waiver extending to copyright to prevent and treat COVID-19. Representing over 30 million global teachers and 1,500 libraries and research institutions, the groups pointed to the importance of access to copyrighted works to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the Biden administration endorsed the thrust of that statement — supporting a waiver of all “intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” not only of patents.

Other supporters of the TRIPS waiver emphasized the need for emergency measures to overcome copyright barriers in the COVID-19 pandemic:

“The global health crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the deep imbalances of the WTO’s intellectual property IP rules enshrined in the TRIPS agreement. At Creative Commons, we believe international copyright rules should not stand in the way of accessing and sharing knowledge to help fight the pandemic; instead they should provide equitable access and use of essential materials in remote educational, learning and research activities; virtual access and use of library collections; and research on treatments using advanced processes such as text and data mining. We also believe the international IP system should enable broad and early public access to medicines, treatments and vaccines. We thus call on WTO members to endorse the TRIPS waiver proposal and to act urgently to guide countries in addressing copyright barriers to access to knowledge to uphold fundamental rights and the public interest,” explained Catherine Stihler, CEO of Creative Commons.

“In establishing just how productive and beneficial the free and open sharing of research and related discoveries can be, the concerted effort to make the science on COVID-19 as widely available as possible has had a remarkable global impact. Open science is alleviating suffering and saving lives. It is advancing research. Up to this point, the openness of pandemic-related research is largely the result of concerned researchers and responsible scholarly publishers responding to a health crisis of planetary dimensions. Now is the time for WTO to formally, if temporarily, suspend the applications of its rules on intellectual property when it comes to efforts at preventing, containing and treating COVID-19,” said John Willinsky, Khosla Family Professor of Education, Stanford University, and Director of the Public Knowledge Project, which produces open source software in support of open access to research.

“Access to copyrighted works, in addition to patents, industrial designs, regulatory data, and trade secrets, including manufacturing know-how, proprietary formulas, and biologic resources, is needed to prevent and contain COVID-19 and to develop treatments. Copyright protection on software, industrial blueprints, production manuals, and other creative works are increasingly embedded in diagnostic and other medical devices and in COVID-related digital-health technologies. Suspending such copyright protection can result in more immediate production of existing and new COVID health products,” explained Brook Baker, Senior Policy Analyst, Global Health Access Project and Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law.

“During the pandemic, there have been copyright claims regarding 3D printing of medical devices, and library and school shutdowns that created an unanticipated need to rely upon online access to learning and research tools, under controlled digital lending systems. In each of these cases, copyright exceptions are quite important, including those appropriate for this type of emergency,” said James Love, Director, Knowledge Ecology International, who recently wrote on the crucial link between know-how and the scale up of production of vaccines.

“The barriers to entry for developing COVID-19 treatments, vaccines, diagnostics, and other interventions include copyright law, which restricts access to information for scientists and public health researchers alike. As an organization of university students, we are deeply concerned with the ability of academics to access the information they need to innovate, and the ability of researchers to share their work and collaborate without restriction. In the interest of the university communities which have stepped up to this global challenge, we call for WTO member countries to prioritize public health and lift copyright barriers to COVID-19 research,” stated Navya Dasari, a current NYU Law student and Coordinating Committee member of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines.

“COVID-19 and the lockdown have meant that libraries were not available to the public to access print and digital services. Although all library resources are acquired and distributed legally, converting print resources would violate many copyright laws around the world. Likewise, transmitting copyright content in other formats such as reading a book aloud over Zoom would potentially infringe on the relevant copyright laws. Many libraries needed to do exactly that but could not avoid breaking the law,” said Dick Kawooya, Associate Professor, School of Information Science, University of South Carolina.

“Libraries of all types – both through their collections and their services – play a key role both in mitigating the impacts of the pandemic, and in accelerating efforts to bring it to an end. While definitively enabling them to carry out their missions across borders and in a digital world will require longer term international legal action, the situation faced today requires emergency measures in order to enable the interdisciplinary work needed to understand the pandemic in all its dimensions, and to enable the continuation of education, research and cultural participation,” said Stephen Wyber, Manager, Policy and Advocacy, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

“Whether the focus is on remote education, software adaptation, text and data mining or machine learning, flexibilities in copyright law go hand in hand with other adjustments that we need to make to the intellectual property system to help combat COVID-19. The removal of pressure and constraints from the International trade regime will go a long way to helping countries maximize their policy space to develop appropriate pandemic responses that are sensitive to local conditions,” explained Peter K. Yu, Regents Professor of Law and Communication and Director, Center for Law and Intellectual Property, Texas A&M University:

“The United States’ punishing enforcement of intellectual property rules through trade threats has created a culture of fear that, even during a global pandemic, is interfering with our ability to save lives,”said Fight for the Future’s Lia Holland.

“Copyright and other intellectual property law must serve the public interest. Right now, at a minimum they must not stand in the way of how people adapt to challenging circumstances. Granting the TRIPS waiver proposal will be an important step toward the creation of an intellectual property system that allows the globe to best respond to challenges such as the COVID pandemic,” said John Bergmayer with Public Knowledge.

Skip to content