Common Text Emerges On Copyright Exceptions For The Blind

Print This Post Print This Post

A cross-cutting group of major World Intellectual Property Organization members today produced a “non-paper” on limitations and exceptions to copyright for visually impaired readers at a WIPO meeting on copyright. The group had met in informal consultations for a few months and achieved consensus on the substance this morning, according to sources.

The text of the non-paper [pdf], a paper that does not yet have official status, was being translated for discussion in plenary meeting this afternoon. And while the substance of the non-paper was agreed by the co-sponsors, the form of the international instrument that would result from it appeared to still be undecided.

The non-paper was put forward by Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, the European Union and its member states, Mexico, Paraguay, and the United States. The United States and the European Union would prefer to go for a joint recommendation, but many countries, including Brazil, would favour a treaty. Brazil has shifted its stance somewhat more in favour of copyright since its presidential election last autumn, according to officials.

The 22nd session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) is taking place from 15-24 June. The three first days of the meeting have been devoted to discussions on exceptions and limitations to copyright law to allow better access for visually impaired people. Must of the first day was consumed by opening statements, however.

The non-paper describes the beneficiaries of the instrument, invites countries to introduce in their national copyright laws exceptions or limitations to the right of reproduction, the right of distribution and the right of making available to the public for visually impaired people.

The non-paper also details cross-border exchange of accessible format copies, conditions of importation of accessible format copies, and technological protection measures. It further describes “authorised entity” which would be “a governmental agency, a non-profit entity or non-profit organization that has as one of its primary missions to assist persons with print disabilities by providing them with services relating to education, training, adaptive reading, or information access.”

James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, which closely follows this issue along with the World Blind Union and others, writing on his organisation’s A2K listserv, called the text a “major breakthrough.”

According to the SCCR chair, Manuel Guerra Zamarro, director general of the Mexican National Institute of Copyright, the text was to be translated over lunch and discussions in plenary were supposed to start at 3pm. Delegations would then have had time to go over the non-paper before going into discussions. This is the first SCCR meeting in decades that is not chaired by Jukka Liedes of Finland.

The United States and Brazil initiated the first informal discussions, a US delegate told Intellectual Property Watch. The non-paper is the result of a “careful compromise between” several countries and is based on “good-faith discussions,” he said, adding, “We did not always agree,” but compromise was reached.

The informal consultations brought together countries that had submitted draft texts for international instruments during previous sessions. The WIPO secretariat had prepared a comparative document [pdf] of those proposals: One by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay, based on a treaty proposed by the World Blind Union, also endorsed by Mexico, one by the US for a consensus instrument, one by the African Group for a treaty on limitations and exceptions, and one from the EU for a joint recommendation. All of those instruments aimed at improving access to works protected by copyrights for visually impaired people.

South Africa deemed that during those informal consultations, their requirements were not taken into consideration and chose not to support the non-paper, according to a South African source. South Africa wants a treaty but is concerned about the nature and scope of the instrument. South Africa encouraged the other countries to finish drafting the non-paper but withdrew participation. According to a developed country source, the African Group proposal was taken into consideration while drafting the non-paper. South Africa is currently in the role of chair of the African Group.

The major schism among the countries is about the nature of the instrument. An EU source told Intellectual Property Watch that the EU “cared about results in the real world” and the most speedy and efficient solution to address the problem of access for visually impaired people would be to adopt a joint recommendation.

One of the major problems of access for visually impaired people to copyrighted works is that there are no exceptions and limitations to copyright laws at the national level. This prevents the cross-border circulation of works in special format for visually impaired readers. For example, countries like France or Spain have national exceptions and limitations for visually impaired readers but the work made in special formats for visually impaired readers cannot be sent to some French-speaking or Spanish-speaking countries because of the lack of exceptions in the receiving countries.

A treaty would take too long, the EU diplomat said, especially the ratification of the instrument, which could take years. A joint recommendation would not be binding but would engage countries to work at their national level to introduce exceptions and limitations of copyrights in their country.

All countries participating in the drafting of the non-paper agree on the substance, he said, if not on the form.

The proponents of a treaty said in the past that only an internationally binding instrument would help solve the problem of access to copyrighted works for visually impaired people.

William New contributed to this story.

Catherine Saez may be reached at

Creative Commons License"Common Text Emerges On Copyright Exceptions For The Blind" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


  1. says

    “Advocates for the visually impaired strongly favour a legally binding instrument with a firm timeframe.” Ms. Saez, IP-Watch, 26JUN2010

    The above ‘non-paper’ is largely contained in SCCR20 20_10 US ‘Draft Consensus Instrument’ and/or 20_12 EU ‘Draft Joint Recommendation’ with TI out and AE in … someone (plural) blinked.

  2. says

    As a self-avowed ‘Braille mercenary’ I believe that the digital ASCII Braille BRF file has been held hostage as a more secure digital ‘specialized format’ medium to concerns over more desirable mainstream formats such as ePub, DAISY, and the various other non-specialized formats including PDF and RTF … and that BRF Braille continues to be so in the current ‘Non-Paper’ proposal. There is ample precedent in multiple national copyright laws especially that of Japan to buttress this assertion.

    The inherent security or ‘non-desirability’ of any file will always out-simplify digital fingerprints, watermarks, encryption, extensive database maintenance, or other possible ‘trust’ compliance measures. Such provisions may be beyond the technical. financial, and human resource means of many of the proposed authorized entities especially in developing countries and even those small developed country organizations which are the backbone of current accessible format delivery.

  3. James Broadhead says

    Isn’t this a direct counter-argument to region and format restrictions which affect _everyone on this planet_?

    I absolutely think that the blind should have free access to buy and use any content in whatever format suits them; but I want that right too!

    If I’ve bought a book or music or a movie, I want to read / listen / watch it on whatever device I happen to own. I want to be able to record the text and listen to it while I walk, I want to listen to the director’s commentary while I’m on the bus, and I don’t want to lose the ebooks I’ve bought when I decide to go with a different brand of ebook-reader.

    Yes absolutely, the blind should be able to do all of this, but so should the deaf, the lame and everybody else under the sun.

  4. says

    The following was JULY 2007 correspondence between myself and former American Association of Publishers (AAP) President — and former Member of US Congress from my (then) Congressional district in Colorado — Mrs. Pat Schroeder. I’ll presume enough time has elapsed:

    “In the US we had the Chafee Amendment in Congress that provided free materials to the blind. One problem is everyone is now claiming some disability and insisting they should also get everything free…that would collapse the whole deal.

    “The blind don’t want to deny the others, but also understand if 30% or more of the market gets labeled “disabled” and gets things free, it won’t work. SIGH.”

    Given the wide definition of those who are now to be considered ‘reading disabled’ plus those that might be otherwise eligible under various human rights considerations (illiterate, chronically impoverished, etc.) I sometimes jokingly refer to the ‘disadvantaged majority’ who might be eligible for copyright exception… But I am sure to the various IP and Publisher Rights interests it is no joke.


Leave a Reply