[A2k] IP-Watch: World Blind Union Won’t Be Sidetracked In Quest For Treaty On Reading Access
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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].
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org
Tel: +41 22 791 6727
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