WIPO Members En Route To Diplomatic Conference On Treaty For The Blind

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After several hours in informal consultations, delegates attending the 42nd session of the World Intellectual Property Organization General Assembly (and 22nd Extraordinary Session) came out of the room this evening with good news.

According to several sources, flexibility was shown and a favourable decision is expected to be formalised tomorrow morning on a diplomatic conference to negotiate a treaty creating exceptions to copyright for the benefit of visually impaired people, to be held in June 2013, likely in Morocco.

The latest text of the decision, circulated by Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), to be approved tomorrow morning, is here.

The Extraordinary General Assembly opened this morning with high hopes that it would address the needs of visually impaired people. Most countries voiced support for a diplomatic conference but some of them outlined pending issues and wished to link the conference with progress in the draft treaty text.

The Assembly is being held from 17-18 December. The treaty would provide limitations and exceptions to copyright, allowing cross-border dissemination of works in accessible formats for visually impaired people (IPW, WIPO, 16 December 2012).

According to sources, the new language of the Assembly’s decision should contain mention of one special working session in February, to be followed if necessary by other sessions before the June conference. Some countries insisted that the discussions during those working sessions be limited to substantive talks about the draft treaty.

In the afternoon, some textual proposals [pdf] for a decision came out of the informal meeting room. The first paragraph of that document clearly states “the objective of the conference is to negotiate and conclude a treaty.”

According to sources, the new version of the text to be issued tomorrow morning still contains the word “treaty,” which might allow interpretation that the US finally agreed on this type of instrument.

The plenary is expected to reconvene tomorrow morning and to make a formal decision on the diplomatic conference and ways to address remaining work to be done on the draft treaty text. A diplomatic conference is UN parlance for a highest level treaty negotiation.

Long Discussion on Conditions for Negotiations

Last-minute consultations among member states delayed the opening of the assembly this morning, according to assembly president, Ambassador Uglješa Zvekić of Serbia. “We have now reached a key moment in the completion of this vital exercise,” he said.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry called it “an extremely important moment in the life of this organisation.”

Member states displayed overwhelming support for convening the high-level negotiation, with Morocco offering to host the event. However, the European Union, in its statement, linked the holding of the conference to success in breaching the remaining issues in the text. The United States supported the diplomatic conference but did not mention a treaty, referring instead to a “legally-binding agreement.”

The US statement is available here.

Zvekić called for an informal meeting with regional coordinators after the plenary broke at midday to discuss the grounds upon which the diplomatic conference could be convened.

One of the issues in the discussion was whether the special session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) should be tasked with deciding the fate of the conference – whether it could ask for postponement, for example, after considering progress made on the text after the special session, sources told Intellectual Property Watch.

In Morning Session, EU Dithers

In its statement this morning, the European Union delegate said the EU was encouraged by work achieved at the last session of the SCCR. But although convergence was achieved on some issues, he said, more work needs to be done, some of which on key elements of the text. The EU, he said, “considers that it is necessary to find an agreement on some remaining key issues before a successful diplomatic conference takes place.”

The EU welcomed the suggestion to organise a special work session in February, saying, “This session should at least establish consensus on the conditions for the making and cross border exchange of accessible format copies, technological protection measures, and compliance of contracting parties with existing international obligations.”

The delegate said the EU was in a position to support the convening of a conference in 2013, but there is a need to assess “in the coming months whether sufficient progress has been made” for such a conference to finally take place.

The US delegate in his statement said, “we have always said that the content of the international norms is more important to us than the form of the instrument,” adding that “over fifteen years ago the United States was at the forefront of the now roughly sixty countries that have exceptions for persons with print disabilities in their national laws.”

“The United States joins other delegations in supporting a clear mandate for further discussions before the Diplomatic Conference to clarify and settle as many outstanding issues as possible before June,” the delegate said, and added that “we also support Member States making a final review to ensure that in our assessment we are all in a position for a successful Diplomatic Conference next summer.”

Extensive Support for a Diplomatic Conference

The African and Asian groups said they support a diplomatic conference in 2013. Also stating support were: the Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries, which launched the discussion in the SCCR in the first place, the Development Agenda Group, and the Least Developed Countries Group.

The Group of Central European and Baltic States said it supports the diplomatic conference but in order to have a successful conference, remaining open questions should be settled beforehand, in particular the three-step test should be in the text, as well as commercial availability.

A large number of individual countries concurred, such as China, Indonesia, Algeria, Mongolia, Argentina, Nigeria, Mexico, Morocco, Canada, Switzerland, Russia, Senegal and Tunisia, most of which called for calling a diplomatic conference without conditions.

Mexican Ambassador Juan José Gómez Camacho said the issues at stake in the text were not political but only technical, and followed a universal rule: “there is no technical problem that does not have a solution.” There cannot be a half-measure, he said, “you convene a diplomatic conference, or you don’t.”

Moroccan Ambassador Omar Hilal said the country submitted its candidacy to host the diplomatic conference in June. “The community has been waiting for this [treaty] for too long,” he said, adding that setting a date for a diplomatic conference would put pressure on negotiators, setting a deadline so that they come to the negotiations showing appropriate flexibility and shoulder their responsibility.

The Marrakesh event will be a “great event” and a “cornerstone of WIPO history on working for human rights,” the delegate said, adding that WIPO is not only for patent holders and copyright holders. WIPO will be seen to be “doing something for human rights,” he said.

Treaty advocate James Love of KEI said, “Now that WIPO has finally made the political decision to hold a diplomatic conference on a treaty, attention will shift to the outstanding issues in the negotiation. We need to avoid a complex and restrictive text, like the 1971 appendix to the Berne Convention.”

“The text should provide for straightforward user rights, and procedures that work in both high income and low income countries,” he said. “This is a great step forward, but there is work to be done.”

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

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