KEI Statement on WIPO decision to hold June 2013 diplomatic conference for treaty on copyright exceptions for disabilities

Geneva, Tuesday, 18 December.2012

At the end of the two day WIPO Extraordinary General Assembly, Member States today agreed "to negotiate and adopt a treaty on limitations and exceptions for visually impaired persons/persons with print disabilities."

The USA had come into the meeting trying to downgrade the agreement from a treaty to an agreement of ambiguous non-treaty status, and both the US and the EU wanted today's decision to be subject to a later approval -- dubbed either the kill switch or the softer "safety valve" by the US and EU publisher friendly delegations. But in the end, the support for the diplomatic conference and the treaty prevailed.

The diplomatic conference will be held in Morocco in late June 2013, in the city of Marrakesh.

Several civil society NGOs following the negotiations welcomed the decision, and are now preparing for the next round of negotiations on the treaty text. The text negotiations will restart in February in a special WIPO meeting designed to narrow differences before the official diplomatic conference in June. (Several video interviews of NGOs, publishers, country negotiators and WIPO officials are available here: http://keionline.org/node/1629)

The idea for the treaty was first proposed by a WIPO/UNESCO consultant Wanda Noel in 1985, but did not move in WIPO until the World Blind Union (WBU) and other NGOs including KEI proposed a draft treaty to WIPO in November 2008. In May 2009 Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay formally introduced the treaty text where it first meet stiff opposition from the United States and the European Union.

Comment by James Love, Director Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), an organization that focuses on human rights and intellectual property rules.

"The treaty will create a global standard for the rights of persons who are blind or have other disabilities, and create a global system for sharing and disseminating accessible copies of copyrighted works across borders. Now that governments have finally made the political decision to move this to a diplomatic conference attention will turn to the substantive issues in the text. Some publisher friendly delegations are seeking to load the text with provisions that will make it more restrictive and difficult to use. But persons with disabilities have strong allies, including many developing country delegations and high income countries like Switzerland that are focused on making life better for person with disabilities. We are pleased the USA and the European Union have finally allowed this project to go forward, but disappointed that the USA demanded that deaf people be excluded from the treaty, opposed language to make accessible versions of audiovisual works used in education and training, and that the US and the EU continue to narrow the consumer rights in the treaty."

Comment by Thiru Balasubramaniam of KEI

"Most blind people live in developing countries where there are almost no resources to create accessible copies of copyrighted works. A strong Treaty for the Blind will unlock the large digital libraries of accessible works that are now off limits due to outdated international copyright rules. The agreement today provides new hope for the millions of blind and visually impaired persons that they will have expanded access knowledge and culture. WIPO will now be seen to be doing something positive for human rights. The decision to hold a diplomatic conference on the Treaty of the Blind is a clear victory over the opposition by among others, the US, the EU and France, who were insisting on publisher and movie industry demands that the treaty be blocked, weakened and or narrowed."

(More information on the negotiation are available from KEI at http://keionline.org/r2r)

BACKGROUND

According to the UN’s World Health Organization, 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide, including 39 million are blind. This includes other barriers to reading through disabilities, eg. the loss of limbs. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/

The World Blind Union estimates that 90 % of the world's visually impaired live in developing countries, that 7% of published books are ever made accessible (in formats such as Braille, audio and large print) in the richest countries, and less than 1% in poorer ones.

Around 60 countries in the world have national exceptions to copyright which allow copyright exceptions for works to be made available for persons who are blind or have other disabilities. But these exceptions typically stop at the national border. The WIPO Treaty for the Blind would and should permit and vastly expand cross border sharing of these works for blind and visually impaired.

Currently, although richer countries produce tens of thousands of access versions of books and other copyrighted publications, under current rules these accessible versions cannot be shared across borders with other countries.

The treaty would have its largest impact on countries that share common languages, such as English, Arabic, Spanish French, Portuguese, German, Swahili, Tamil or Russian. The treaty would also expand access to works in foreign languages, an increasingly important issue with growing numbers of people that read in more than one language, or who have migrated to another country to work.

Although countries like the US, Canada and most European countries have copyright exceptions incorporated into their national laws which allow for works to be adapted for use by the blind, two thirds of countries around the world do not have these laws.

The treaty would provide a basic set of standards for exceptions to be adopted nationally by all countries and would also allow for cross-border sharing of accessible copies.

More information about this issue is available at http://keionline.org/r2r