[A2k] CIS Intervention at WIPO on the TVI

Pranesh Prakash pranesh at cis-india.org
Wed Apr 24 12:30:28 PDT 2013

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Dear all,
I read out an abridged version of the below intervention on Saturday,
April 20, 2013 at WIPO.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.  I represent the Centre for Internet and
Society, a policy research organization based in India.  India, as
everyone who has been attending these SCCR meetings since 2008 would
know, has the world's largest population of blind and visually
impaired persons.  Two of my colleagues at CIS — Nirmita Narasimhan
and Anandhi Viswanathan — are blind, and another one of my CIS
colleagues who passed away recently (and whose tireless efforts were
remembered here at WIPO recently with a minute of silence) — Rahul
Cherian — spent many years working extensively on policy issues
related to persons with disabilities, and in particular worked here in
WIPO as part of Inclusive Planet, and with the World Blind Union.
Hence, this issue is not an abstract one for us, but a very real one.

I commend the delegates here for taking some steps forward during this
meeting.  However, very disappointingly, with those few steps forward,
we have seen a few things we had taken as settled being opened up
again, and many steps being taken backward. The already-onerous
requirements and procedures laid down in this treaty are seen by a few
countries as not being onerous enough. Blind people, it is believed,
might 'wrongly' take advantage of these provisions.  Worse yet, there
is a fear that sighted persons might take advantage of these
provisions relating to the blind.

The absurdity of these fears somehow seems to have escaped the notice
of many involved in these discussions. There is nothing in these
provisions that would convert infringement by sighted people — even if
under the pretence of this treaty — magically into lawful acts.  And,
indeed, there are multifarious ways of infringing copyright without
such resort to this treaty.  Yet, these very same onerous requirements
(such as the "commercial availability" requirement) and bureaucratic
processes will unrealistically increase transaction costs for the
visually impaired and render infructuous the very purpose of this
treaty.  Those delegations who are unrelenting on these issues seem to
living in a bizarre world where sighted infringers deviously use
exceptions granted in an international copyright treaty to engage in
piracy; a bizarre world where scanners and the Internet have not been
invented.  And by refusing to acknowledge these ground realities, they
are merely forcing the blind into wearing eye-patches and being 'pirates'.

In particular, I would like to deplore the stand taken by the European
Union, being represented here by the European Commission, whose
actions run contrary to the call made in May 2011 by the European
Parliament to "to address the ‘book famine’ experienced by visually
impaired and print-disabled people".  This is despite the European
Parliament having reminded "the Commission and Member States of their
obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities to take all appropriate measures to ensure that people
with disabilities enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible
formats, and to ensure that laws protecting IPR do not constitute an
unreasonable or discriminatory barrier to access by people with
disabilities to cultural materials".  The EU, and a few countries of
Group B, including the United States, have been slowly bleeding this
treaty to death through over-legislation and bureaucracy.

The United States' and EU's stand on technological protection
measures, if accepted, would mean that publishers will technologically
be able to prevent the blind from enjoying accessible works, even when
they can't do so legally on the basis of copyright law.  The European
Union's stand on all issues has been extraordinarily harmful, and
seems to have an aim to make this treaty as unwieldy and unworkable as
possible.  They seem to regard the Berne Appendix as their model in
this regard: an international agreement that exists on paper for the
benefit of developing countries, but because of its bureaucratic
processes is little used, and is widely regarded as a failure.

Here is what it boils down to: when it comes to the economic rights of
copyright owners, current international law insists that there be no
formalities, yet when it comes to the human rights of visually
impaired person to access information — a right specifically
guaranteed to them under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities — some delegates in this room wish to ensure as many
formalities as possible.

The rights of the visually impaired are being buried under unnecessary
and complicated requirements and bureaucratic practices.  This
injustice must stop: the delegates here have the power to do so.  And
if the EU does not wish to be viewed as villains by all persons with
print disabilities and all persons with conscience, it should stop
trying to make this an ineffectual treaty.  Many have quipped that
this is fast becoming "A Treaty for Rightholders Against Persons with
Visual Impairments and Print Disabilities" or alternatively "A Treaty
for Morally Impaired Persons and Persons with Ethical Disabilities".
That is an international shame.

Having colonized much of the world into using English, French, and
Spanish, these European countries along with the USA are now in a
position to be both culturally dominant and to refuse to sign up to
this treaty if it helps blind persons outside of the EU and the USA
who seek access to texts in these languages.  These remnants of
colonialism must be stamped out.

- -- 
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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