[A2k] IP-Watch: World Blind Union Won’t Be Sidetracked In Quest For Treaty On Reading Access

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Mar 10 04:16:42 PST 2011


Intellectual Property Watch
10 March 2011

World Blind Union Won’t Be Sidetracked In Quest For Treaty On Reading  
By Catherine Saez @ 12:29 pm
In a significant development for ongoing copyright negotiations at the  
World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Blind Union has  
distanced itself from initiatives it sees as distractions from a  
primary goal at the international level: To get agreement on a treaty  
promoting better access to reading material for visually impaired  

The World Blind Union (WBU) recently announced that it suspended its  
participation in two industry-oriented initiatives to facilitate  
access and cross-border distribution of works for visually impaired  
readers, and reaffirmed the need for an international legal  
instrument. The union insists on the establishment of a treaty which  
would lead countries to issue national copyright exceptions laws. The  
two initiatives are at WIPO and the European Union levels.

In a statement [pdf] released on 26 February, WBU said the World  
Intellectual Property Organization’s trusted intermediary global  
accessible resources project (TIGAR) project [pdf] was “erroneously  
portrayed by some organisations as an alternative to the underpinning  
legal framework needed to guarantee equal access to information  
promised under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons  
with Disabilities.”

At stake is a potential international instrument being discussed by  
the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR).  
The TIGAR project was initiated by the WIPO stakeholders’ platform  
itself created by the SCCR in 2008, in order to “facilitate  
arrangements to secure access for disabled persons to protected  
works,” according to WIPO. The main problem pointed out by the WBU is  
the lack of accessibility of works translated in alternate formats  
under a copyright exception across borders.

Discussions at WIPO intensified in 2009 with Brazil, Ecuador and  
Paraguay submitting a treaty originally proposed by the WBU, relating  
to limitations and exceptions. Some countries, such as the European  
Union and the United States have been resisting the idea of a treaty,  
and instead have proposed a joint recommendation without legally  
binding effects (IPW, WIPO, 25 May 2009).

According to WBU President Maryanne Diamond, less than five percent of  
published works are produced in alternate format in developed  
countries, compared with an average of one percent in developing  

“We know that some books are produced into alternate format in more  
than one country in the same language and often by charitable  
organisations who have limited resources and competing priorities as  
to how to use those resources,” she told Intellectual Property Watch.

The WIPO stakeholder platform was “hastily proposed by rights holder  
organisations two days after the WBU treaty proposal was tabled at  
WIPO in 2009,” she said, adding that it appears that “the stakeholder  
platform proposal was a tactic to try to detract attention away from  
the treaty,” Diamond said.

Countries opposed to the treaty have argued that the stakeholder  
platform would provide an expedited solution to the problem of access  
to protected works by visually impaired readers, as opposed to long  
treaty negotiations.

But Diamond said an international treaty is not an option, as it would  
push countries to make national exceptions which would enable  
alternate format books to travel from one country to another.

After analysing the proposed terms of the TIGAR pilot scheme and the  
stakeholder agreements more broadly, WBU “concluded that the terms  
would be too onerous and the cost benefits too unclear,” its release  
said. “This is for the larger organisations in developed countries,  
and the difficulties in participating in the complex agreements  
envisaged under TIGAR would be far greater for organisations in  
developing countries.”

In September, the European Blind Union and the Federation of European  
Publishers signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on access to  
works for dyslexic or visually impaired readers (IPW, IP Live, 19  
September 2010).

This initiative was seeking to ensure that works converted into  
Braille or another accessible format become available in other EU  
member states through a network of trusted intermediaries.

Industry Unfazed

The International Publishers Association (IPA) said it was “saddened”  
to learn of the WBU decision. Jens Bammel, IPA’s secretary general  
said “IPA remains committed to helping print disabled readers to read.  
Our aspiration is that all readers be able to read books when and  
where they want to, and at a fair price, regardless of disability.”

He signalled that his organisation would not move from its position.  
“We believe that continued international cooperative efforts like  
these, with all parties willing to look beyond their organisations’  
near term interests, are essential to achieving our shared goal,” he  
said in a press release.

According to the release [pdf], the IPA understands “that the  
unilateral suspension of collaboration by the World Blind Union is  

The International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations  
(IFFRO), which represents copyright licensing groups and others, said  
it regretted the decision of the WBU to the WIPO and EU discussions  
“which have shown every prospect of delivering timely solutions for  
the reading impaired community,” said IFRRO in a release.

“IFFRO is strongly committed to the solutions worked out by the  
stakeholders together and to continuing the dialogue with  
representatives from the reading impairment communities,” he said.

Fighting the “Book Famine”

In an interview published by Knowledge Ecology International, David  
Hammerstein, former member of the European Parliament from Spain, said  
European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier  
is in favour of voluntary measures and “soft law” to solve the “book  
famine” suffered by millions of visually impaired persons.

However, Hammerstein highlighted a possible inconsistency in Barnier  
accepting only soft law to help persons with disabilities to access  
books and a strong position in favour of legally binding treaties for  
copyright enforcement, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

He said EU publishers have heavily lobbied the European Parliament  
against the treaty, and the European Commission was ignoring the  
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,  
which it has signed. He said France was resisting the treaty the most,  
with the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries having a more  
flexible attitude.

The staunch opposition to the treaty by the EU is more ideological  
than economical, according to Hammerstein.

At the last WIPO SCCR, in November, members agreed on a work  
programme, which stipulates three extra working days for the next  
three meetings of the SCCR to be dedicated to discussions on  
limitations and exceptions to copyright law (IPW, WIPO, 15 November  

The fourth interim report of the stakeholders’ platform describing the  
outcome of the fifth meeting of the platform in New Delhi in October,  
is available here [pdf].


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

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