Group Of Countries To Back Proposal For WIPO Treaty On Blind Readers’ Rights

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A group of Latin American and Caribbean countries have declared their intention to support discussion of a proposal to negotiate a World Intellectual Property Organization treaty ensuring an exception to copyright for visually impaired readers who lack access to protected reading materials. The proposal is expected to be brought to the floor of a key copyright committee meeting this week.

The WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) will meet from 25-29 May.

Representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Jamaica, Peru, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay, plus non-governmental organisations met from 13-14 May in Montevideo to discuss a World Blind Union proposal for a treaty negotiation. The group agreed by consensus on the need to advance the proposal as a basis for negotiation, especially in light of the international convention on the rights of disabled persons that includes a right of non-discriminatory access. They were to communicate their position to their own governments, they said in a declaration.

An English translation of the Montevideo declaration is available here [pdf].

Brazil announced its intention to introduce the WBU proposal at this week’s SCCR meeting, supported by several members.

The concern is that visually impaired readers, especially in developing countries, have access to only a fraction of written material in the world, often due to costs deriving from copyright restrictions on the works. For instance, a blind reader in one country may not have access to a version of a book for blind readers in another country due to restrictions on cross-border distribution.

The WBU proposal came up at the last meeting of the SCCR in November 2008 as a non-governmental proposal referred to by some government delegations during the meeting. At that meeting, all members agreed to a line in the meeting conclusions that stated, “a number of delegations referred to a paper presented by the World Blind Union and expressed interest in further analysing it.” (IPW, WIPO, 9 November 2008).

Exceptions and limitations are a standard part of copyright law, generally recognising the special needs for access for education, disabled persons, museums, journalists and so forth. The issue has been under discussion in the WIPO copyright committee for several years, following a proposal from Chile.

The WBU proposal and discussions of a possible treaty are separate from another initiative at the SCCR to collect the views of the copyright industry and visually impaired stakeholders gathered by the secretariat since the last meeting.

The interim stakeholder “platform” report is among the documents readied by the secretariat for this week’s meeting, and reflects meetings held by WIPO in January in Geneva and April in London. It aims at encouraging ongoing discussion on possible solutions by stakeholders with an eye toward seeking a private-sector breakthrough that has been elusive for years. This approach echoes the industry preference to leave it to them to find solutions rather than undertake a treaty negotiation that could lead to binding terms.

The Montevideo group took the view that the treaty talks can be undertaken with or without the platform, as the platform would not resolve all issues, a source said.

Also among the documents prepared for the meeting is supplementary information by the secretariat on WIPO studies on limitations and exceptions, including details on progress on treatment of reading disabled persons. This includes updates on laws in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Russia, Greece and Ecuador.

A questionnaire on exceptions and limitations for libraries, education and the visually impaired also will be reviewed at the meeting. The secretariat was asked to prepare the questionnaire at the last SCCR meeting, and governments will have until 1 October 2009 to complete the 52 questions.

The committee will elect a chair for the meeting. In the case of the SCCR, unlike any other WIPO committee, the same person has been chair for as long as a decade: Jukka Liedes of Finland. He has generally shown sympathy for developed country – especially European – perspectives. It is unclear why developing countries do not push an alternative candidate for the chairmanship.

Also on the opening day of the WIPO committee meeting, 25 May, there will be a daylong “informational meeting on developments in broadcasting.” This will look at various aspects of IP rights and broadcasting, an issue that rose to a high-level treaty negotiation at WIPO in 2007 before collapsing in disagreement. Many thought the issue was dead at WIPO but there are some members, likely led by Europe, who keep the issue on the table.

The informational meeting will cover topics such as developments in industry and technology, development, sports broadcasting, governance and the public interest.

It is unclear how the informational session will play into the copyright committee meeting.

Another perennial committee issue, treatment of audiovisual performances, is on the week’s agenda as well.

William New may be reached at

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  1. […] Discussions at WIPO intensified in 2009 with Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay submitting a treaty originally proposed by the WBU, relating to limitations and exceptions. Some countries, such as the European Union and the United States have been resisting the idea of a treaty, and instead have proposed a joint recommendation without legally binding effects (IPW, WIPO, 25 May 2009). […]

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