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    World Blind Union Won’t Be Sidetracked In Quest For Treaty On Reading Access

    Published on 10 March 2011 @ 12:29 pm

    By , Intellectual Property Watch

    In a significant development for ongoing copyright negotiations at the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Blind Union has distanced itself from initiatives it sees as distractions from a primary goal at the international level: To get agreement on a treaty promoting better access to reading material for visually impaired readers.

    The World Blind Union (WBU) recently announced that it suspended its participation in two industry-oriented initiatives to facilitate access and cross-border distribution of works for visually impaired readers, and reaffirmed the need for an international legal instrument. The union insists on the establishment of a treaty which would lead countries to issue national copyright exceptions laws. The two initiatives are at WIPO and the European Union levels.

    In a statement [pdf] released on 26 February, WBU said the World Intellectual Property Organization’s trusted intermediary global accessible resources project (TIGAR) project [pdf] was “erroneously portrayed by some organisations as an alternative to the underpinning legal framework needed to guarantee equal access to information promised under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

    At stake is a potential international instrument being discussed by the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR). The TIGAR project was initiated by the WIPO stakeholders’ platform itself created by the SCCR in 2008, in order to “facilitate arrangements to secure access for disabled persons to protected works,” according to WIPO. The main problem pointed out by the WBU is the lack of accessibility of works translated in alternate formats under a copyright exception across borders.

    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).

    According to WBU President Maryanne Diamond, less than five percent of published works are produced in alternate format in developed countries, compared with an average of one percent in developing countries.

    “We know that some books are produced into alternate format in more than one country in the same language and often by charitable organisations who have limited resources and competing priorities as to how to use those resources,” she told Intellectual Property Watch.

    The WIPO stakeholder platform was “hastily proposed by rights holder organisations two days after the WBU treaty proposal was tabled at WIPO in 2009,” she said, adding that it appears that “the stakeholder platform proposal was a tactic to try to detract attention away from the treaty,” Diamond said.

    Countries opposed to the treaty have argued that the stakeholder platform would provide an expedited solution to the problem of access to protected works by visually impaired readers, as opposed to long treaty negotiations.

    But Diamond said an international treaty is the only option [corrected], as it would push countries to make national exceptions which would enable alternate format books to travel from one country to another.

    After analysing the proposed terms of the TIGAR pilot scheme and the stakeholder agreements more broadly, WBU “concluded that the terms would be too onerous and the cost benefits too unclear,” its release said. “This is for the larger organisations in developed countries, and the difficulties in participating in the complex agreements envisaged under TIGAR would be far greater for organisations in developing countries.”

    In September, the European Blind Union and the Federation of European Publishers signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on access to works for dyslexic or visually impaired readers (IPW, IP Live, 19 September 2010).

    This initiative was seeking to ensure that works converted into Braille or another accessible format become available in other EU member states through a network of trusted intermediaries.

    Industry Unfazed

    The International Publishers Association (IPA) said it was “saddened” to learn of the WBU decision. Jens Bammel, IPA’s secretary general said “IPA remains committed to helping print disabled readers to read. Our aspiration is that all readers be able to read books when and where they want to, and at a fair price, regardless of disability.”

    He signalled that his organisation would not move from its position. “We believe that continued international cooperative efforts like these, with all parties willing to look beyond their organisations’ near term interests, are essential to achieving our shared goal,” he said in a press release.

    According to the release [pdf], the IPA understands “that the unilateral suspension of collaboration by the World Blind Union is temporary.”

    The International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO), which represents copyright licensing groups and others, said it regretted the decision of the WBU to the WIPO and EU discussions “which have shown every prospect of delivering timely solutions for the reading impaired community,” said IFRRO in a release.

    “IFRRO is strongly committed to the solutions worked out by the stakeholders together and to continuing the dialogue with representatives from the reading impairment communities,” he said.

    Fighting the “Book Famine”

    In an interview published by Knowledge Ecology International, David Hammerstein, former member of the European Parliament from Spain, said European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier is in favour of voluntary measures and “soft law” to solve the “book famine” suffered by millions of visually impaired persons.

    However, Hammerstein highlighted a possible inconsistency in Barnier accepting only soft law to help persons with disabilities to access books and a strong position in favour of legally binding treaties for copyright enforcement, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

    He said EU publishers have heavily lobbied the European Parliament against the treaty, and the European Commission was ignoring the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which it has signed. He said France was resisting the treaty the most, with the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries having a more flexible attitude.

    The staunch opposition to the treaty by the EU is more ideological than economical, according to Hammerstein.

    At the last WIPO SCCR, in November, members agreed on a work programme, which stipulates three extra working days for the next three meetings of the SCCR to be dedicated to discussions on limitations and exceptions to copyright law (IPW, WIPO, 15 November 2010).

    The fourth interim report of the stakeholders’ platform describing the outcome of the fifth meeting of the platform in New Delhi in October, is available here [pdf].

    Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

     

    Comments

    1. john e miller says:

      There is an old Lily Tomlin comedy sketch which ends:

      “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the Phone Company.”

      Mr. Hammerstein says in the referenced interview at Answer 7:

      “It is difficult to counter the arguments of the industry-EU-US coalition against the Treaty because they simply present no arguments.”

      I guess that’s the whole point: They don’t *have* to have an argument… The Treaty has so many variables and definitions that they can just sit back and do nothing and accomplish their purpose.

      It is my opinion that the only way to pressure the above mentioned coalition into negotiating toward a workable Treaty is to make use — absent any Treaty — of the existing Copyright Law exceptions of many countries for Braille and alternative formats and their export/import to their fullest potential … and therefore put those against a binding Copyright Treaty on the offensive for a change.

    2. IP Osgoode » EU Parliament Calls On Commission To Work Towards WIPO Treaty For Accessibility says:

      [...] Recommendations would not offer the same degree of exceptions that a treaty could provide.   They point out that unreasonable industry concerns create a larger hindrance to the treaty process than [...]

    3. Possible Treaties Brewing At WIPO Committee On Copyright | Intellectual Property Watch says:

      [...] establishment of a treaty that would engage countries to issue national copyright exceptions laws (IPW, WIPO, 10 March 2011). WBU said the TIGAR project was “erroneously portrayed by some organisations as an alternative [...]

    4. Parliament Committee Urges EU Commission To Support Print Disabilities Treaty | Intellectual Property Watch says:

      [...] The Commission has shown support for a soft law approach, which was rejected by the World Blind Union (WBU) last February (IPW, Copyright Policy, 10 March 2011). [...]

    5. SMEs, Innovation Division, External Offices Capture Attention In WIPO Meeting | Intellectual Property Watch says:

      […] The Stakeholders’ Platform includes WIPO and a number of organisations representing authors and publishers, as well as visually impaired persons. The World Blind Union, which was part of the Platform suspended its participation in 2011 (IPW, WIPO, 10 March 2011). […]


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    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

    9. These terms and your posts and contributions shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Switzerland (without giving effect to conflict of laws principles thereof) and any dispute exclusively settled by the Courts of the Canton of Geneva.

     

     
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