[A2k] Guardian: US film industry tries to weaken copyright treaty for blind people

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Mon Jun 24 07:58:28 PDT 2013


US film industry tries to weaken copyright treaty for blind people

Treaty to make copyrighted works available for visually impaired people –
90% of whom live in global south – coming up against film lobby

Paige McClanahan

guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 June 2013 15.27 BST

Negotiators from 186 countries are in Marrakech this week trying to hammer
out the text of an international treaty that aims to make copyrighted works
more readily available to the world's blind and visually impaired
people, 90% of whom live in the global south.

Observers say the treaty, which has been in the works at
the World Intellectual Property Organisation since 2008, is likely to be
finalised before the end of this week. But the scope of the treaty, which
seeks to lift copyright restrictions on published works in the interest of
blind people, has come under intense pressure from one of the most
powerful lobbies in the US: Hollywood.

"The Obama administration has an extremely intimate relationship with the
motion picture industry with regard to these negotiations," said James
Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a
non-profit organisation with offices in Washington and Geneva.

Love was the force behind a recent freedom of information request
that revealed extensive communication (pdf) between the film
industry and the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which has been
leading the US delegation in the treaty talks.

The request revealed "142 pages of emails [over] just a couple of months'
period, and that was just with one agency of the government", Love said.
The film industry is "trying to micro-manage the US government's position
on a treaty involving blind people", he added.

Representatives of the industry hired lawyers to offer advice on the treaty
language, which was passed on to the PTO, as evidenced in the emails. In
one message from February, Justin Hughes, the lead US negotiator, asked
whether one of those hired lawyers might "have any views on [a
controversial subject] that you might solicit and we might use to counter
[other countries' positions]?"

Copyrighted audiovisual works – such as films and slideshow presentations –
are not even going to be covered by the treaty, which is limited to print
works. But that has not always been the case.

In June 2011, several countries – including the US and EU members – jointly
put forward a proposal (pdf) suggesting that a treaty for visually impaired
people should cover all copyrighted works "in any media".

But by July 2012 (pdf), negotiators had started wrangling over
the definition of the "works" to be covered by the treaty. The phrase "in
any media" had been put into square brackets, indicating that it was a
source of disagreement among the parties, while a phrase limiting the
works covered to "text, notation and/or related illustrations" had
been introduced, also in brackets. Audiovisuals have been off the table
ever since.

In effect, Love said, the impact of this shift, which he says was led by
the US, is enormous. "If there's a training video or an educational video,
you can't touch the content of that in order to make it accessible to a
blind person," he said.

Among the groups shown to be in active communication with the US government
are Paramount Pictures, Time Warner, Warner Brothers and – most of all –
the Motion Picture Association (MPA), which represents Hollywood interests.

Chris Marcich, director of the MPA's operations in Europe, the Middle East
and Africa, insists his organisation does not have an unduly
close relationship with the US officials. "The US government tries to
balance the positions of various stakeholders, and we're one of them,"
said Marcich, who spent more than a decade working in the Office of the
US Trade Representative in the 1980s and 1990s.

He insisted that his organisation is simply interested in ensuring
the treaty contains appropriate "checks and balances". If the
copyright exceptions are too loose, he said, they "could be used by
someone who's interested in something other than serving the interests of
a visually impaired person … Maybe a commercial entity wants to try to make
money off of an exception."

But many developing country delegates worry that the copyright exceptions
that end up in the final treaty may be so complex as to make them virtually
useless to blind and visually impaired people in the global south.

Ruth Okediji, an intellectual property lawyer who is representing
Nigeria in the negotiations, stressed the importance of including
usable copyright exceptions in the text of the treaty.

"Even though there are rules in the copyright system that help strike
a balance between rights holders and the public, those rules are
not sufficient to address the needs of the blind," said Okediji, who
admitted she was "surprised" and "disappointed" to discover the extent to
which the film industry was lobbying for a weaker treaty.

"No country should be comfortable in a world where the blind or
visually impaired have less access to works than sighted persons," she

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