[A2k] IP Watch: Miracle In Marrakesh: “Historic” Treaty For Visually Impaired Agreed

Krista L. Cox krista.cox at keionline.org
Tue Jun 25 19:57:23 PDT 2013


IP Watch: Miracle In Marrakesh: “Historic” Treaty For Visually Impaired

By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch

Marrakesh, Morocco – The mood was one of celebration at the Marrakesh
Palais des Congrès to greet the success of World Intellectual Property
Organization negotiators in their attempt to produce a draft treaty text
showing consensus. After a difficult start to the week, delegates achieved
success and the corridors of the conference centre echoed with laughter and
congratulations. Tears of joy were shed as most celebrated this as an
historic agreement. Visually impaired people and civil society supporting
them were ecstatic, some said overwhelmed.

The final informal consolidation draft text [pdf] was issued late at night,
and all articles were adopted by a full room of delegates. The text is now
off to the drafting committee which will ensure that all different language
versions are consistent and compatible.

For the visually impaired community, this is seen as nothing short of a
miracle. After 10 days of hard negotiations, Dan Pescod, who leads the
World Blind Union’s European campaign for the treaty, confessing
exhaustion, told Intellectual Property Watch before the text was available
“part of me wants to see the text in front of me and part of me feels this
is an historic day many years in the making.”

Maryanne Diamond, immediate past president of the World Blind Union told
Intellectual Property Watch that all issues that mattered for blind people
had been addressed. “We are still in shock,” she said, adding “this is the
beginning of changing the world for blind people.”

Pablo Lecuona from the Latin American Blind Union said that for the past
five years the blind community had been pushing for recognition of the
problem of access to books for visually impaired people. “Now we have a
treaty,” he told Intellectual Property Watch, but said they have further
work, which is the ratification and the implementation of this treaty so
that it is an effective tool so that blind people can access more books.

“I am overwhelmed. It was so hard and it should not have been so hard,”
said Jamie Love, a strong supporter of the treaty. “It took five years of
hard work when it could have been much quicker but people really changed
their mind when they met blind people, you could see a change in attitude
in delegates,” he said.

“The European Union and the United States delegates found a way to push
back on industry lobbying,” he told Intellectual Property Watch and even
within industry, he added, there was a change of attitude, with some
lobbyists pushing back hardliners.

Jim Fruchterman, who heads Benetech, which runs Bookshare, a digital
platform providing special format books for visually impaired people, said,
“We are extremely excited about the treaty. We have the technology and we
have the content, now we have a legal regime to make it possible for every
person with print disabilities on the planet to get access to the books
they need for education, employment, and social inclusion.”

Delegates Displaying Glee

The level of enthusiasm was the same among delegates, whether from
developed countries, developing or least-developed countries.

 Justin Hughes, a US delegate told Intellectual Property Watch “It was a
pleasure to work with Brazil, and the European Union, and Mexico in the
early days to try to get the first collaborative text together. Obviously
it feels wonderful to see that text come to fruition.”

Another representative of Group B developed countries said that the text
was balanced, as a European Union delegate said “everybody is very happy,
very satisfied.” A delegate of the African Group said, “It is a miracle.”

In a rare occurrence, all delegations, as well as civil society, celebrated
in unison a treaty characterised as serving human rights.

The enthusiasm was not as marked on the side of publishers. A source from
the publishing industry told Intellectual Property Watch that the text was
“pretty balanced” and that “there was something in it for everyone.”
Visibly the text is not to their full satisfaction, but most interviewed
said they were happy for visually impaired people.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry told observers that the treaty had been
driven by nongovernmental organisations and it was not only a treaty, but a
good treaty. He extended “his profound thanks” for what he describes as “a
truly historic result.”

“It is a great thing for WIPO, for intellectual property, for the
multilateral system, but above all, for visually impaired persons,” Gurry
said. He was greeted by sustained applause. Participants widely praised the
work of the WIPO secretariat.

After a difficult beginning of the week when progress was very limited on
issues on which delegations stood firm, relief first came last Saturday
when agreement was reached on the three-step test and the Berne Gap (IPW,
WIPO, 24 June 2013).

Agreement on Tough Issues

Since then, there was mounting pressure to find agreement and the visually
impaired representatives grew worried about the nature of the treaty. Among
the issues remaining to be resolved as recently as yesterday were
commercial availability, right of distribution to individuals, and right of

The issue of commercial availability, long-standing and pugnacious, was
solved yesterday. Visually impaired people and developing countries wanted
it out of the treaty, publishers and developed countries wanted it in.
Finally, commercial availability still stands under Article 4 (National Law
Limitations and Exceptions on Accessible Format Copies), but has
disappeared from Article 5 (cross-border exchange of accessible format

The issue of the right of distribution to individuals was settled after
“some additional safeguards and some additional information sharing
mechanisms” were added to the text, according to Hughes.

The text will come back to plenary to be reviewed and adopted, after having
been through the drafting committee, on Thursday morning, said the WIPO
secretariat, and countries will give their comments on the treaty at this
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Krista L. Cox
Staff Attorney
Knowledge Ecology International
(202) 332-2670

Krista L. Cox
Staff Attorney
Knowledge Ecology International
(202) 332-2670

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