[Ip-health] Intervention of the Holy See: WIPO Diplomatic Conference on a Treaty for the Blind

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Jun 18 10:54:50 PDT 2013



285 million people are visually impaired worldwide according to estimates
of the World Health Organization and approximately 90% of them live in
developing countries. Only 1% of the books in Developing and Least
Developed countries, however, are available in formats accessible to blind
people. In the Developed countries as well visually impaired individuals
have access to only 5 percent of published books. Such a situation has been
appropriately called a "book famine". In fact, many visually impaired
learners and university students in developing countries lack access to

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right of all
individuals to freely participate in the cultural life of the community and
to enjoy the arts (Art. 27). This Conference is mandated to deal with a
copyrights issue that has a clear human rights dimension: the need to
ensure that copyright is not a barrier to equal access to information,
culture, and education for people with print, reading and related
disabilities, “giving people a variety of opportunities to discover their
potential, understand their environment, discover their rights and take
total control of their destiny” [1] <http://keionline.org/node/1752#1b>.
This objective implies access to knowledge and skills needed to develop a
person’s capacity to shape her future.

Twenty or thirty years ago little could be done about the “book famine”.
Printing braille books was time-consuming and resource-intensive.
Technology has brought about important changes. Today visually impaired
people can read books on computers using text-to-speech technology
magnification, by means of so-called braille displays, or by listening to
normal audio books. Now every book on the planet can quite easily be made
accessible to blind users; instead of the 1% or 5% access of the past,
today’s technical capacity allows close to 100%. Our goal, then, is not
just a treaty, but rather a treaty that will resolve obstacles to access.

While new technologies make it possible to imagine a world where visually
impaired persons can access a broad variety of documents just as sighted
people can do, the out-of-date legal environment is a barrier. The
protection of intellectual property is an important value, which we must
respect. However, there is a social mortgage on all property, including
intellectual property. The very creative and innovative thrust, that the
intellectual property rights system offers, exists primarily to serve the
common good of the human community.

At the national level, some countries have limitations and exceptions in
copyright laws to enable accessibility for persons with reading
disabilities without the permission of copyright owners. These provisions,
however, vary considerably from country to country. They are often quite
restrictive or focused only on older technologies such as raised paper
braille. As a consequence, the total number of accessible resources is very
low, particularly in smaller market countries. This Marrakech Diplomatic
Conference represents an historical opportunity for the international
community to give a concrete answer to most practical issues at the global

The exercise, therefore, of the exceptions and limitations permitted under
the treaty must not be impeded or negated by other disciplines such as
technological protection measures and contract law. We also caution against
the introduction of new obligations that override sovereign discretion by
WIPO member States a propos of how national governments create other
exceptions and limitations in order to address public interest needs.

Accordingly, it is critical that the discussions focus on existing
approaches already recognized under the Berne Convention as consistent with
the three-step test, specifically fair use and fair dealing, whether in
place of or in addition to specific limitations and exceptions in national


As stated by Jean Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens, “It
would be radically unworthy of man, and a denial of our common humanity, to
admit to the life of the community, and thus admit to work, only those who
are fully functional. To do so would be to practise a serious form of
discrimination, that of the strong and healthy against the weak and sick”
[2] <http://keionline.org/node/1752#2b> . Since all persons are called to
contribute to society, it is fundamental to create an international
instrument that could give even to impaired people a variety of
opportunities to discover their potential, understand their environment,
discover their rights and put to the best use their talents and resources
both for personal fulfilment and for their contribution to society.

This common good must be served in its fullness, not according to a
reductionist vision subordinated only to the advantage of some people;
rather, it is to be based on a logic that leads to the acceptance of a
comprehensive responsibility. “The common good corresponds to the highest
of human inclinations [3] <http://keionline.org/node/1752#3b>, but it is a
good that is very difficult to attain because it requires the constant
ability and effort to seek the good of others as though it were one's own
good. The distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person
knows, is laboring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity
between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered property-less, must be
effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of
the common good, that is, social justice”

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