[announce] Article on Visually Impaired Treaty
ebridges at acb.org
Mon Dec 28 16:00:09 GMT 2009
Happy holidays to one an all. I was honored to represent the American
Council of the Blind at the World Intellectual Property Organization's
(WIPO) most recent meeting in Geneva Switzerland two weeks ago. The purpose
of my attendance was to provide support for the proposed treaty that is
currently under consideration at WIPO which would call for effective
sharing of books and other publications in alternate formats across
boarders. Below is an article that highlights the challenges surrounding
this treaty. The World Blind Union (WBU) has been leading the charge at
WIPO for several years on this critical issue. As a member of the WBU, it
was great to be able to provide support through participation in the
meeting. It is worth noting that ACB was the only organization of or for
the blind that represented the U.S. in this meeting. .
22 December 2009
Big Step Forward On Treaty For The Visually Impaired At WIPO
@ 6:23 pm
Over ninety-five percent of printed works are in formats inaccessible to
people with visual impairments, representatives of the visually impaired
week at the World Intellectual Property Organization. An agreement to allow
exceptions in copyright law, they argued, could address this book famine
by removing copyright restrictions on translation of works into accessible
formats and on sharing of these translations across national boundaries.
Early days of a WIPO meeting to address this issue saw a groundswell of
support for the creation of a treaty on exceptions and limitations for the
with a proposal for such a
treaty submitted by Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay
[pdf] that included
text from the World Blind Union
[pdf]. Advocates were also encouraged by a strong statement in support of
an international consensus by the United States as well as 17 newly
nongovernmental observers to the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related
Rights (SCCR), the body charged with handling the issue, fourteen of which
are representatives of the visually impaired community.
But some nations remained hesitant about the timing of negotiations, notably
the European Union, which argued there needs be more fact-finding before it
is decided that copyright is the culprit in limiting access to reading
material for the visually impaired. Others, notably the African Group,
ensure that negotiating a solution for the blind does not interfere with
negotiations on other exceptions and limitations they see as critical, such
for library archives, education, or research. The SCCR met from 14 to 18
In particular, language related to whether WIPO was taking steps towards a
treaty caused much discussion at the end of the meeting. The Group of
American and Caribbean States (GRULAC) - and in particular the three
governments who had submitted the proposal - said that a treaty was express
their work, and had been advocated by the stakeholders representatives, the
World Blind Union.
The European Union said they could not accept language about the development
of a treaty, sources told Intellectual Property Watch, arguing that they had
already done our share of compromising and already gone to quite some
length to make this move forward by changing their position entirely to
to a work program on the issue.
Negotiations stretched to late Friday evening, with three versions of draft
conclusions (available here:
[pdf]. Underlining in the text indicates changes) written and revised over
several days before the final version,
[pdf], was decided.
In the end, both work program and treaty were removed in direct
reference to WIPOs work on exceptions and limitations for the blind, and
reads: The Committee accepted the initiation of focused open ended
consultations in Geneva aimed at producing an international consensus
limitations and exceptions for persons with print disabilities.
Meanwhile, the African Group and some other countries were clear in saying
that progress on a solution for the visually impaired should not be in lieu
work on other duties of the committee. India, for example, called the
visually impaired treaty an extremely important initiative, but added the
should keep working on other issues, sources told Intellectual Property
Limitations and exceptions proposed at the SCCR in addition to the visually
impaired include educational activities, research exemptions, and libraries
and archives. The SCCR will fail to deliver its mandate if there is not
sufficient results on the four items, said a delegate supporting the WBU
proposal. But there is not yet draft text on the other items, and the
visually impaired treaty can, and should, go forward now, the delegate
In the end, language was accepted that mentioned a global approach and the
equal importance and different level of maturity of the different issues
Growing Momentum to Find Solutions, with Time Pressure
Access to information is key, but access to information is a barrier to
us, said Maryanne Diamond, president of the World Blind Union. There is a
momentum to do something about this issue, said Eric Bridges, director of
advocacy and governmental affairs at the American Council of the Blind.
The US government
in some respects helped to dislodge a logjam. This, he
said, does not mean things will go sailing through, but the change in the
United States position is positive for us to get what we want. The US in
the past had been much more reticent in expressing strong support (
IPW, WIPO, 30 May 2009).
But under the new Obama administration, the United States is now committed
to a more thoughtful, reflective and modulated IP policy that protects the
of IP holders and creators while serving the interests of civil society,
its head of delegation, Senior Advisor of the Under Secretary of Commerce
Hughes told Intellectual Property Watch.
This is not a developing country issue, [but an] issue for all countries,
a developing country representative said to Intellectual Property Watch,
a statistic mentioned several times throughout the week that only 5 percent
of works in the developed world, and less than one percent in the
are accessible to the visually impaired.
This is our one chance to do something meaningful with this material,
Bridges said. There is a gathering momentum and it is our hope as
with print disabilities that these nations will stay at the table and
negotiate an agreement that will help people.
The dynamic has changed in a positive way, Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology
International, an advocacy group which has been working with the WBU on the
treaty, later said. But delays can be dangerous. The resources of civil
society are limited, and their staying power is not infinite. Accepting a
or short-term solution while hoping a long-term solution will eventually be
negotiated in 10 years is not good enough, Love emphasised.
Still, it takes some time to analyse the issue, Christoffer Démery from
the Swedish presidency of the European Union told Intellectual Property
The EU wants progress, but information about all the issues involved is
needed to make it easier to decide what the best way to proceed is, he
are still in a fact-finding phase, and would welcome any more information
Emanuel Meyer of the Swiss mission said the copyright system was something
like a Ford Model T old, yes, but well tended to and updated, we can expect
it to still work perfectly. He likened the current proposal to being told a
part of the car is not running smoothly, and we are told with a set of new
shiny tires it will run again.
But, he added, we dont know why its not running smoothly. Maybe the
gearbox is broken. So the tires may look great but they dont solve the
The issue is to make sure the solution addresses the problem at hand, he
Some industry lobbyists also sought to slow any progress toward what they
see as a process of eating away at copyright. Though people are rallying
the idea of a treaty, there are other ways to do it that can be as
effective and wont undermine IP, said Mark Esper of the US Chamber of
came to Geneva for the first days of the meeting bearing that message. And
the problem being experienced by visually impaired persons may lie outside
Brad Huther of the Chamber added later that the committee should focus on
practical results-oriented strategies such as specific requirements for the
electronic devices like the Kindle electronic book reader.
The goal with a treaty on exceptions and limitations for the print impaired
is in part to reduce redundancies that put a strain on scarce resources that
need to stretch to many different services for the blind, Bridges explained.
Copyright restrictions on internationally-bestselling childrens novel Harry
Potter, he said, meant copies of the book translated into accessible formats
could not be shared across national lines but instead had to be
in every country.
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