[A2k] IP-Watch: Visually Impaired, Civil Society, Industry Defend Their Stakes In Marrakesh

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Jun 20 10:47:36 PDT 2013


Visually Impaired, Civil Society, Industry Defend Their Stakes In Marrakesh

Published on 20 June 2013 @ 7:23 pm

By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch

This week’s World Intellectual Property Organization Marrakesh Diplomatic
Conference, anticipated to deliver an international treaty
allowing visually impaired people wider access to books, is also an arena
where different stakeholders hope to influence the debate. Civil society
calls for a practical treaty that really works on the ground, while
industry insists that safeguards to protect the integrity of the
international copyright laws be included in the treaty.

WIPO members are in Marrakesh, Morocco this week to negotiate an
international treaty on exceptions and limitations to copyright for
blind and visually impaired persons.

For the TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), “this Treaty is not about
balance but instead about correcting the enormous, immoral and historic
imbalance between blind persons who are deprived access to culture and
education and a publishing industry that already has many laws that protect
it, between most sighted persons who can access millions of books and the
visually impaired who have been deprived of many of the benefits of the
information technology revolution,” the representative said in his opening

“Over the past few months,” he said “we have heard from industry
representatives that allowing blind persons to have easy access
reading material on a non-profit basis could ‘severely weaken international
copyright law’. Even some EU and US representatives have been carried away
by this neurotic paranoia of potential piracy that has never been
substantiated by any empirical evidence.”

Knowledge Ecology International said, in their opening statement, that
“There is a disparity between the lofty language in this hall, and
the efforts to narrow user rights taking place downstairs, in the closed
meeting.” The representative deplored that deaf persons are not part
of potential beneficiaries, as well as audiovisual works, due to what he
characterized as motion picture lobbying efforts. Exclusions, which
he called “shameful for a UN body.”

He said fair use and fair practices are important for publishers, sighted
persons and for blind persons. According to him “there are efforts
to expand the 3-step test for blind persons in ways that exceed its scope
for sighted persons,” and “efforts to create all sorts of new treaty
rules that make the exceptions narrow, complex and difficult and costly to

Blind Person Explains Hurdle Due to Lack of interoperability

A representative of the Civil Society Coalition who spoke, said his name is
Marcus Low from South Africa, blind since the age of seven. Throughout his
life, he said, accessing books has always been a struggle, in particular at
university. “I often did not have the books I needed,” he said, preventing
him from performing to his full ability.

“There are things that we can’t fix about disability,” he said, but books
are something that can be fixed. In 2013, he went on, accessing
books remains a struggle. A few months ago, in the context of his work in
public health, he needed to read a book called Reputation and
Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA.

“I had to search for a very long time” before finding a relatively
accessible book, he said. The book he found online could only be read with
a particular software, he said. With this software, he met all kind of
hurdles such as being unable to quote a paragraph, forcing him to read
the same page several times to get to the desired paragraph to be able to
quote it.

“This book was commercially available,” he said, “and I am very concerned
that if we set the ball for commercial availability that low we are not
really going to solve any problems.” Commercial availability is a key issue
under debate at this week’s negotiations.

“I am firmly of view that we should not have commercial availability in the
treaty but if for some reason it is a compromise” that delegates have to
make, safeguards need to be built in “to protect people like myself and
that could be things like interoperability,” he said. Interoperability
means the ability to read text with various devices and various types of
software, he explained, which would have solved his problem in the example
he used.

Furthermore, he said “we increasingly see use of audiovisual materials in
classrooms and lecture halls, and online learning and yet in the last six
months audio materials have disappeared from the treaty.”

“Why,” he asked, “why should blind people not have access to these new
forms of learning? Why?”

“The treaty has the potential to change my life and the lives of millions
of blind people, has the potential to dramatically expand educational and
professional prospects, but if becomes as bloated and as weakened as it is
threatening to be, it will be of little or of no value.”

“If that happens Marrakesh will be remembered as our collective failure to
do what’s right,” he concluded.

Bookshare Warns Against Needless Added Costs

Benetech, which operates Bookshare, a digital platform providing books to
visually impaired people, said in its opening statement that the non-profit
offers 197,000 books available in the US and that Bookshare servers 250,000
people, mainly in the US but also in 40 other countries.

“Our library is made possible both by a domestic copyright exception that
makes it possible for us to add any book requested by a blind person to our
library, as well as strong cooperation with publishers who provide many of
their books directly to our library for free, including the rights to serve
people in certain other countries,” he said.

“The digital nature of our work makes it cost effective to serve many
people without spending a royal treasury,” he said, explaining “We provide
library services in rich countries for US$75 per year per person. In the
developing world, we charge roughly US$10 per year, subsidizing this cost
in solidarity.”

“As you devise the treaty, please realize that any procedures that
needlessly add costs to the inexpensive provision of accessible books
will effectively result in denial of access,” he pleaded. “We don’t want
procedures that make providing a book in a developing country to be
more expensive than in our home country.”

Industry Keen on Including Three-Step Test Reference

The International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO),
in its opening statement said “a simple and clear inclusion of
the ‘three-step test’, as expressed in all copyright-related treaties of
the past four decades, is the easiest and most effective way to remove
any doubt about the treaty’s compatibility with the international copyright

The so-called three-step test, which places conditions on the use of
exceptions and limitations to copyright, has been widely discussed
without conclusive solutions (IPW, WIPO, 14 June 2013).

IFRRO, as well as other copyright holder representatives, such as the
Motion Picture Association, said the treaty should not include “fair
use”, which “is not defined in international law.”

The treaty, IFRRO said, “must not discourage the fairest and fastest route
to the widest possible range of accessible works: access provided
by authors and publishers…. Exception should only apply where the market
fails, and not undermine the practical solutions that are already
being explored and implemented in developing as well as in developed

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