New Draft WIPO Visually Impaired Treaty Shows Progress, But “Clock Is Ticking”

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As a new revised working document on a potential treaty for visually impaired persons was issued this morning at the World Intellectual Property Organization, delegates retreated again into informal consultations for the day to try to advance the text further.

Meeting Chair Darlington Mwape, the Zambian ambassador, said at the opening of the plenary today that although some progress was made, a lot was left to be achieved, according to sources. He called for countries to focus on the text of the working document and try to solve problems rather than introduce new text.

Mwape reminded the plenary of the ticking clock before the extraordinary General Assembly, which is to be convened in December to decide on a diplomatic conference in 2013. There are two days left this week, he said, and two days during the next session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) to be held from 19-23 November.

The WIPO members are meeting from 17-19 October in an intersessional meeting on limitations and exceptions for visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities. The meeting started on the basis of an earlier “primary” draft document (IPW, WIPO, 17 October 2012).

The revised working document [pdf] dated 17 October is the result of all day informal consultations yesterday. The preamble paragraphs remain unchanged and include a number of proposals by countries. In Article A, the definition of “works” now has additional brackets, and the description of the form of works (text, notation, and/or related illustrations) remains bracketed.

The definition of “accessible format copy” was agreed but there is also an alternate definition, which features only the first sentence of the agreed paragraph.

Still in Article A, the definition of “authorized entity”, which refers to entities providing education-related or information-related services for visually impaired people, has a number of brackets. In particular, there is disagreement around the non-profit status of educational, teaching or other institutions.

According to both the primary and revised documents, the nature and the scope of obligations are still to be discussed. As it stands now in the texts, the international instrument is described as “international legal instrument/joint recommendation/treaty.” During past sessions of the SCCR, developed countries such as the European Union members or the United States have voiced their preference for a soft instrument rather than a binding one.

According to a source, some of the worries of the proponents of a legally binding instrument are that if there are too many restrictions to the application of the instrument, it would defy the purpose of such instrument.

Delegates are stumbling on sticking points which never met consensus in previous meetings, such as the role and definition of authorised entities, the cross-border exchanges of works, and the relationship of a potential instrument with private and other contracts, according to a developing country source.

Since the intersessional meeting is mostly held in informal discussions, non-governmental organisations are left outside the door. The plenary will reconvene tomorrow at 10, the chair said.

Catherine Saez may be reached at

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