[A2k] James Love in HuffPo: White House to Decide if Treaty for the Blind Moves Forward

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Tue Jun 14 15:15:56 PDT 2011

White House to Decide if Treaty for the Blind Moves Forward
Posted: 06/14/11 06:09 PM ET


Beginning Wednesday, June 15, the World Intellectual Property
Organization (WIPO) the specialized UN agency for intellectual
property, begins nine days of negotiations on possible copyright
treaties. The first three days will be spent on a proposed treaty on
exceptions to copyright for persons who are blind or have other
disabilities. The proposed treaty would bind parties to creating
minimum exceptions in copyright laws to facilitate access to
copyrighted works by persons who are blind, visually impaired or have
other disabilities, and permit the sharing of copies of such
accessible works across borders.

At present, most high income countries have robust exceptions in
copyright laws for persons with disabilities, but do not allow the
export of those works to other countries with similar exceptions. Many
developing countries have no such exception, or one that is very
limited, for example, to only cover Braille in some countries. In
1983, WIPO and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO) recommended model exceptions in copyright law
for persons with disabilities, and in 1985, a WIPO/UNESCO expert
called for a treaty to faciliate the cross-border sharing of
accessible works. After decades of inaction on those recommendations,
WIPO took up the issue in 2008, and has been involved in a
surprisingly bitter and heavily lobbied debate ever since.

Publishers have opposed a treaty for disabilities on the grounds that
it will set a precedent that copyright treaties can be designed to
address problems facing consumers, rather than just expanding the
rights for copyright owners. While the exception for persons who are
blind or have other disabilities has almost no economic impact on
publishers, they are concerned about possible expansions of copyright
exceptions for libraries or education -- both major markets for

The White House and the United States Patent and Trademark Office
(USPTO) have been lobbied heavily on the treaty for the blind issue.
European and Canadian owned publishers argued that WIPO should kill
the treaty proposal, in favor of a non-binding recommendation --
similar to the one offered in 1983 by UNESCO and WIPO.

Meanwhile, next week WIPO will focus on proposals to other treaties --
that expand copyright and related rights. One would give a new
intellectual property right to broadcasters, cable companies,
satellite television and radio, and webcasters for simply transmitting
copyrighted works owned by others. Another treaty deals with
"performers" rights. In the cases where corporate interests are stake,
no one proposes a soft non-binding solution -- a treaty is the only
option under consideration.

In 2008, the Bush administration opposed a treaty for the blind. In
early 2009, the Obama administration also opposed a treaty for the
blind. But by December 2009, the Obama administration seemed to have
changed its mind, and announced it was "open" to a treaty. But since
2009, three key treaty supporters left the Obama administration --
Susan Crawford and Andrew McLaughlin in the White House and Arti Rai

Since the departure of Crawford, McLaughlin and Rai, the USPTO has
been aggressively but quietly trying to kill the treaty, and
pressuring treaty supporters, including both NGOs and governments, to
settle for a soft recommendation as a "first step" and to wait several
more years before taking the treaty proposal up again.

Europe is divided on the treaty. Some countries, such as the UK and a
few northern European countries support the treaty, and the European
Parliament recently voted to support the treaty. But France and
Germany oppose the treaty, and so has the European Commission.

At this point, the fate of the treaty is largely in the hands of David
Kappos, the former IBM executive now running the USPTO. If Kappos
supports the treaty, opposition will fade, and the treaty will move
ahead to a diplomatic conference.

For a detailed history and background on the negotiation, see:
Background and update on negotiations for a WIPO copyright treaty for
persons who are blind or have other disabilities.

Follow James Love on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jamie_love

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