[A2k] AFP: Signed, sealed, delivered books treaty for the blind
thiru at keionline.org
Sat Jun 29 20:38:50 PDT 2013
28 June 2013| last updated at 10:15PM
Signed, sealed, delivered: books treaty for the blind
Signed, sealed, delivered: books treaty for the blind - Latest - New
MARRAKESH, Morocco : Delegates hailed as historic an international treaty
signed on Friday in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh that is expected to
boost hundreds of millions of blind or visually impaired people’s access to
books.Blind music legend Stevie Wonder was in Marrakesh for the
celebrations and he called the treaty, which comes after years of
negotiations and resistance from rights holders, “a new beginning”.
Until now and because of copyright law, only about five percent of books
published each year appear in formats accessible to the visually impaired,
according to the World Blind Union.
Their cross-border exchange is also severely restricted, putting them out
of reach for the vast majority of the estimated 314 million visually
impaired people worldwide, 90 percent of whom live in developing countries.
After more than a week of intense debate, the 800 delegates from the World
Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)’s 186 member countries reached a
compromise, primarily on limiting copyright restrictions.
The accord aims to facilitate the transcription and circulation of
published works in special formats such as Braille, audio books and large
Civil society representatives attending the negotiations erupted with joy
when the treaty, the culmination of years of negotiations, was first
“It’s a pretty historic, exciting day for us here at the WIPO conference,”
said Maryanne Diamond, president of the World Blind Union, adding: “It’s
been a very long battle.”
“This treaty... allows people to be able to borrow or get access to books
produced in an alternate format in one country and share it with persons
in another country. This is a really important thing,” she explained.
“Now countries have to ratify the treaty. You can’t use the treaty until
you ratify it.”
The debate has centred on the 1886 Berne Convention for the Protection of
Literary and Artistic Works, which effectively requires that permission be
obtained from authors, and royalties paid, for the use of copyrighted works.
It also restricts cross border exchange.
As the WIPO’s director general Francis Gurry explained, even if there are
exceptions, “the tangle of national regulations” currently makes
international lending of special format books very difficult.
“It’s the system of exchange created by the treaty that will make the
difference. A blind person in Senegal or Morocco could directly request
copies from an association in France for example,” he said.
Like many at the meeting, Gurry said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the
outcome, given the expected opposition from publishers concerned about how
the treaty might undermine their interests.
Barbara Martin, with the National Organisation of Spanish Blind People,
praised the implications of the treaty for the Spanish-speaking world.
“It’s going to be just amazing. We’re talking here, in Spain and
Argentina, about more than 150,000 works in accessible format being shared
with the rest of the Spanish community,” she said.
Jace Nair, head of the South African National Council for the Blind, said
securing the treaty was “a very emotional moment,” and emphasised the
impact it would have in Africa with its disproportionately large blind
“We’ve been in negotiations at WIPO for the past four years and we know
the kind of battle it was, and particularly the resistance of some of
countries, especially the US and the EU. But sense prevailed over the
“In Africa, we’ll be in a better position to get a greater access to
information and knowledge... (which) is going to improve the quality of
our education, improve access to education, access to health services,
active participation in civic life,” he added.
Adopted unanimously on Thursday, the Marrakesh treaty was signed on Friday
morning in the presence of Stevie Wonder, who had promised to perform in
the event of an accord being reached.
“This is a new beginning for the blind and the visually impaired. This
victory... sends a message to the world leaders that it is possible to do
business and to do good in the meantime,” said the US singer.
“I’m urging now all governments to implement this treaty.”--AFP
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