[A2k] CIS's closing statement at Marrakesh on the Treaty for the Blind

Pranesh Prakash pranesh at cis-india.org
Fri Jun 28 08:29:57 PDT 2013

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Dear all,
This is the way-too-long just-over-1000-words version of my closing
statement, which I delivered in a slightly-abridged form last evening
at Marrakesh.


Thank you, Mr. President.

I am truly humbled to be here today representing the Centre for
Internet and Society, an Indian civil society organization.  If I may
assume the privilege of speaking on behalf of my blind colleagues at
CIS who led much of our work on this treaty, and the many blindness
organizations we have been working with over the past five years who
haven't the means of being here today, I would like to thank you and
all the delegates here for this important achievement.  And specially,
I would like to thank the World Blind Union and Knowledge Ecology
International who renewed focus on this issue more than 2 decades
after WIPO and UNESCO first called attention to this problem and
created a "Working Group on Access by the Visually and Auditory
Handicapped to Material Reproducing Works Produced by Copyright".

While doing so, I would like to remember my friend Rahul Cherian, a
young physically impaired lawyer from India who co-founded Inclusive
Planet, and was a fellow with the Centre for Internet and Society, and
was a legal adviser to the World Blind Union.  He worked hard on this
treaty many years, but very unfortunately did not live long enough to
see it becoming a reality.  His presence here is missed, but I would
like to think that by concluding this treaty, all the distinguished
delegations here managed to honour his memory and work.

I am grateful to all the distinguished delegations here for
successfully concluding a reasonably workable treaty, but especially
those — such as who realized they were negotiating with blind people's
lives, and regarded this treaty as a means of ensuring basic human
rights and dignity of the visually impaired and the print disabled,
instead of regarding it merely as "copyright flexibility" to be first
denied and then grudgingly conceded.  The current imbalance in terms
of global royalty flows and in terms of the bargaining strength of
richer countries within WIPO, many of who strongly opposed the access
this treaty seeks to facilitate right till the very end, is for me a
stark reminder of colonialism, and I see the conclusion of this treaty
as a tiny victory against it.

It is historic that today WIPO and its members have collectively
recognized in a treaty that copyright isn't just an "engine of free
expression" but can pose a significant barrier to access to knowledge.
~ Today we recognize that blind writers are currently curtailed more by
copyright law than protected by it.  Today we recognize that copyright
not only _may_ be curtailed in some circumstances, but that it _must_
be curtailed in some circumstances, beyond the few that have been
listed in the Berne Convention.  One of the original framers of the
Berne Convention, Swiss jurist and president, Numa Droz, recognized
this in 1884 when he emphasized that "limits to absolute protection
are rightly set by the public interest".  And as Debabrata Saha,
India's delegate to WIPO during the adoption of the WIPO Development
Agenda noted, "intellectual property rights have to be viewed not as a
self contained and distinct domain, but rather as an effective policy
instrument for wide ranging socio-economic and technological
development. The primary objective of this instrument is to maximize
public welfare."

When copyright doesn't serve public welfare, states must intervene,
and the law must change to promote human rights, the freedom of
expression and to receive and impart information, and to protect
authors and consumers.  Importantly, markets alone cannot be relied
upon to achieve a just allocation of informational resources, as we
have seen clearly from the book famine that the blind are
experiencing.  Marrakesh was the city in which, as Debabrata Saha
noted, "the damage [of] TRIPS [was] wrought on developing countries".
~ Now it has redeemed itself through this treaty.

This treaty is an important step in recognizing that exceptions and
limitations are as important a part of the international copyright
acquis as the granting of rights to copyright holders.  This is an
important step towards fulfilling the WIPO Development Agenda.  This
is an important step towards fulfilling the UN Convention on the
Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  This is an important step
towards fulfilling Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights,  Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic Social
and Cultural Rights and Article 30 of the UN Convention on Persons
with Disabilities, all of which affirm the right of everyone —
including the differently-abled — to take part in cultural life of the

While this treaty is an important part of overcoming the book famine
that the blind have faced, the fact remains that there is far more
that needs to be done to bridge the access gap faced by persons with
disabilities, including the print disabled.

We need to ensure that globally we tackle societal and economic
discrimination against the print disabled, as does the important issue
of their education.  This treaty is a small but important cog in a
much larger wheel through which we hope to achieve justice and equity.
~ And finally, blind people can stop being forced to wear an eye-patch
and being pirates to get access to the right to read.

I also thank the WIPO Secretariat, Director General Francis Gurry,
Ambassador Trevor Clark, Michelle Woods, and the WIPO staff for
pushing transparency and inclusiveness of civil society organizations
in these deliberations, in stark contrast to the way many bilateral
and plurilateral treaties such as Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement,
the India-EU Free Trade Agreement, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Agreement.  I hope we see even more transparency, and especially
non-governmental participation in this area in the future.

I call upon all countries, and especially book-exporting countries
like the USA, UK, France, Portugal, and Spain to ratify this treaty
immediately, and would encourage various rightholders organizations,
and the MPAA who have in the past campaigned against this treaty, and
now welcome this treaty, to show their support for it by publicly
working to get all countries to ratify this treaty and letting us all
know about it.

I congratulate you all for the "Miracle of Marrakesh", which shows, as
my late colleague Rahul Cherian said, "when people are demanding their
basic rights, no power in the world is strong enough to stop them
getting what they want".

- -- 
Pranesh Prakash
Policy Director
Centre for Internet and Society
T: +91 80 40926283 | W: http://cis-india.org
PGP ID: 0x1D5C5F07 | Twitter: @pranesh_prakash

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