[A2k] Negotiators Set to Finalize New Treaty Improving Access to Books for Visually Impaired Persons

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Mon Jun 10 08:58:58 PDT 2013

Negotiators Set to Finalize New Treaty Improving Access to Books for
Visually Impaired Persons

10-Jun-2013 | Source : AG-IP News

GENEVA - Hundreds of negotiators representing countries around the world
will gather later this month to work on finalizing a new international
treaty to ease access to books for blind, visually impaired, and other
print disabled people.

Between June 18-28, 2013, the World Intellectual Property Organization
(WIPO) will convene the Diplomatic Conference to Conclude a Treaty to
Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and
Persons with Print Disabilities, which will be hosted by the Kingdom of
Morocco at the Palais des Congres in Marrakesh.

According to WIPO, the meeting which will draw representatives from WIPO’s
186-nation membership, will be opened by WIPO Director General Francis
Gurry and high ranking Moroccan Government and Marrakesh city officials.
Morocco’s Minister of Communications and Government Spokesperson Mustapha
Khalfi will preside over the conference.

The Diplomatic Conference is expected to be the culmination of years of
discussions on bringing more books in accessible versions such as Braille,
large print and digitized audio formats to the blind, visually impaired,
and other print disabled people, the majority of whom live in lower-income
countries. The beneficiaries will have better access to novels, textbooks
and other material that they can use for education and enjoyment.

• Proposed treaty and other material

The Road to Marrakesh

Following preliminary discussions, WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright
and Related Rights (SCCR) has been considering since 2004 whether certain
copyright exemptions should be harmonized internationally for the visually
impaired and persons with print disabilities.

Further impetus to the WIPO talks has come from adoption of the 2006 United
Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states
(Article 30) that laws protecting intellectual property must not pose a
discriminatory or unreasonable barrier limiting access to cultural

A proposal for a treaty was submitted in May 2009 by Brazil, Ecuador and

In December 2012, member states met in an extraordinary session of the
General Assembly and agreed that negotiations had sufficiently advanced to
warrant the convening of a diplomatic conference. Two further negotiating
sessions were held in Geneva in February and April 2013 to advance
discussions further.

Provisional agreement has already been reached on several essential
elements of the proposal, including its beneficiaries, namely visually
impaired persons, other print-disabled people or those unable because of
physical disability to read a standard text.

Member states have also provisionally agreed on key definitions for the
works covered by the text and the “authorized entities[1]” that would
provide accessible versions of published works to persons with visual
impairment or print disabilities.

The proposal would include a requirement for countries to introduce
exceptions and limitations in their copyright laws to allow the production
of books in accessible formats as well as to permit the international
sharing across borders of accessible format copies for people with print

But the draft text that is the basis of the Marrakesh negotiations still
contains a number of issues which require agreement. Those issues will be
the subject of negotiations at the diplomatic conference.

What is a Diplomatic Conference?

The traditional method for concluding treaties has been through the holding
of a diplomatic conference of plenipotentiaries specifically convened for
that purpose. Diplomatic conferences continue to be held, from time to
time, to negotiate and adopt multilateral treaties of particular
significance to the international community.

A WIPO diplomatic conference is typically convoked by a resolution of the
WIPO General Assembly. The constitutive resolution of the Assembly defines
the object of the conference and the general conditions for participation.
Diplomatic conferences are governed by their own rules of procedure and
general international law. Accordingly, it is the conference itself which
adopts the treaty and a final act.

Upon opening, the diplomatic conference in Marrakesh will be divided into
two committees: Main Committee I and Main Committee II. The first
committee’s mandate is to negotiate and agree on all substantive provisions
and recommend them for adoption by the plenary. The second committee is
charged with negotiating and agreeing on all administrative and final
clauses, such as who can join the future treaty and the conditions for its
entry into force. Three other side committees are also formed: the
Credentials Committee, which verifies credentials of delegations to
participate in the conference and to sign the treaty; the Drafting
Committee, which ensures the six language versions of the treaty are
properly aligned; and the Steering Committee, which includes the chief
officers of all the committees and ensures the process is on track.

When all committees finalize their work, the treaty is sent to the plenary
for adoption. It is then open for signature. Signing the treaty at the end
of a diplomatic conference does not necessarily bind a country to its
provisions. It is however a strong indication of intent by the signatory to
join the treaty. The final act – a record that the conference took place –
also opens for signature after adoption.

Some Background

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 314 million
blind and visually impaired persons in the world, 90 per cent of whom live
in developing countries. A WIPO survey in 2006 found that fewer than 60
countries have limitations and exceptions clauses in their copyright laws
that make special provision for visually impaired persons, for example, for
Braille, large print or digitized audio versions of copyrighted texts.

Furthermore, because copyright law is “territorial”, these exemptions
usually do not cover the import or export of works converted into
accessible formats, even between countries with similar rules.
Organizations in each country must negotiate licenses with the rightholders
to exchange special formats across borders, or produce their own materials,
a costly undertaking that severely limits access by visually impaired
persons to printed works of all kinds.

According to the World Blind Union, of the million or so books published
each year in the world, less than 5 per cent are made available in formats
accessible to visually impaired persons.

International copyright law has always recognized the need to balance the
rights of authors of creative works and the public interest, by allowing
some uses of copyrighted material to be exempted from the requirement to
seek authorization from the rightholder or to pay royalties.

The international copyright treaty that is the starting point for the
international copyright framework, the Berne Convention for the Protection
of Literary and Artistic Works of 1886, and its subsequent revisions, have
all included provision for “limitations and exceptions”. The Berne
Convention specifically mentions exemptions for short quotations, news
reporting and illustrative use for teaching purposes.

Otherwise, it is left to national governments to define what limitations
and exceptions are permitted “in certain special cases, provided that such
reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and
does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author”.

In practice, limitations and exceptions contained in national laws vary
widely. In many countries copying for private use is free, but only a few
countries make exceptions for, say, distance learning. Moreover, the
exemptions apply only in the country concerned.

Manon Ress, Knowledge Ecology International, KEI
manon.ress at keionline.org, tel.: +1 202 332 2670
KEI is a not for profit non governmental organization that searches for
better outcomes, including new solutions, to the management of knowledge
resources. KEI is focused on social justice, particularly for the most
vulnerable populations, including low-income persons and marginalized

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