[A2k] International Failure: Are we going to let countries disenfranchise the visually impaired? By Carolina Rossini

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Fri Aug 3 13:35:04 PDT 2012

August 3, 2012 | By Carolina Rossini
International Failure: Are we going to let countries disenfranchise
the visually impaired?

There is a chronic lack of material in formats accessible to the
world’s visually impaired and print disabled citizens. Visually
impaired people face a “book famine” in which 95% of books published
in rich countries and 99% in poorer countries are never converted into
accessible formats such as audio, large print or braille.[1]  The
fastest way to address this famine is to change the copyright law:
create exceptions and limitations that permit shifting of content into
formats accessible to the blind, and allow cross-border exchange of
content in accessible formats.

Copyright maximalists argue against change, pointing out that
individual countries can make these changes themselves. However,
despite the discretion left open to countries by the international
copyright framework, only 57 countries — representing fewer than half
of WIPO’s 184 Member States — were identified as having created
specific exceptions in their national laws for the benefit of the
visually impaired[2]. And as the Sullivan report (2007) documents,
there is considerable uncertainty about the legality of importing and
exporting accessible material across borders, restricting access to
knowledge and requiring unnecessary duplication.

EFF believes that protecting liberties online includes making sure
that all people, regardless of disability, can participate in the
online world. We therefore support a binding treaty to guarantee
access to copyrighted materials through a set of clear exceptions and
limitations for the visually impaired. Although some are suggesting
the use of international norms instead, there is no evidence that
non-binding instruments actually will protect the liberties of the
visually impaired. A study released in 2011 by Yale University also
shows that in this context of human rights and copyright, soft law
would do more harm than good and a binding treaty is needed.

We’re not the only ones calling for a treaty. And it’s seemed at times
as if we were close to achieving one. But in the last World
Intellectual Organization (WIPO) meeting in Geneva, from July 16 to
July 25, 2012, member countries again failed to implement a treaty
that enables copyright law to serve the visually impaired. And the
scenario going forward looks just as bad, as this map of European
countries indicates. Worse, not only is the USA not helping, it has
probably stalled the treaty for another year.

(source: http://www.euroblind.org/wipo#)

The meeting itself was disappointingly opaque. All through the
supposedly open event, WIPO member states were still holding informal
meetings that were closed to observation by even accredited
organizations like EFF. The WIPO secretariat finally circulated, late
in the night before the last day of negotiations, the conclusions text
that follows.

    a) that an inter-sessional meeting of the SCCR be held in Geneva
between the 2012 General Assembly and the 25th session of the SCCR,
and that funding be provided according to the usual formula, for
experts from developing countries to participate in the meeting. The
exact dates will be determined by the WIPO Secretariat.

    b) that the item of limitations and exceptions for visually
impaired persons/persons with print disabilities will continue in the
25th session of the SCCR with a view to conclude or advance
substantially the text-based work on limitations and exceptions for
visually impaired persons/persons with print disabilities.

    c) that the General Assembly convene an extraordinary session to
be held in December 2012 to evaluate the text from SCCR/25 and to make
a decision on whether to convene a Diplomatic Conference in 2013.

The Committee also is moving forward with work on the "Working
document on an international instrument on limitations on limitations
and exceptions for visually impaired persons/persons with print
disabilities" (document SCCR/23/7), and adopted a revised version
contained in document SCCR/24/9[3].

The World Blind Union is one of the organizations that has been
campaigning for years now at WIPO and other venues for the removal of
copyright barriers which prevent blind, partially sighted, dyslexic
and other “reading disabled” people from accessing books. Even
exhausted from ten days of meetings, Chris Friend of WBU told James
Love of Knowledge Ecology International that his organization will
keep moving their work forward.

The impact of publishers and their lobbying efforts is the most
important factor in the inability of WIPO to agree on terms for a
treaty. To publishers, it’s better to disenfranchise the blind than to
allow any exceptions or limitations to copyright. In this video, Alan
Adler (Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs for the
Association of American Publishers – AAP) explains why his
organization opposes a WIPO treaty on this topic.

We’re talking about a treaty to help the visually impaired, whose
disability in a digital age is tantamount to a loss of liberty and
full participation in the knowledge society. One of the reasons why
the World Blind Union and other organizations with similar focus
support the treaty is that they don’t want to be second-class
citizens. How is a copyright change that makes the visually impaired
full citizens in electronic society so difficult to achieve?

[1] http://www.worldblindunion.org/English/news/Pages/binding-book-treaty.aspx

[2] Reply comments of the Library Copyright Alliance, the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, the Internet Archive, and the Chief Officers of
State Library agencies Before The Copyright Office Library Of Congress
In The Matter Of Facilitating Access To Copyrighted Works For The
Blind Or Other Persons With Disabilities

[3] note that this document has not been made available in the WIPO
official website

Manon Anne Ress
Knowledge Ecology International
1621 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009 USA
manon.ress at keionline.org

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