WIPO To Negotiate Treaty For The Blind In June; ‘Still Some Distance To Travel’

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In a swift 15 minute session this morning delegates at the World Intellectual Property Organization extraordinary assembly agreed to convene a high-level meeting in Morocco in June to finalise a treaty on international exceptions to copyrights on books in special formats for visually impaired people.

After long informal discussions yesterday with the assembly chair, Ambassador Uglješa Zvekić of Serbia, the decision document [pdf] was issued this morning.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said, “It is a great decision. Of course we are all aware that there is still some distance to travel before we have a treaty, but this decision, I think, places us one further step along the road and in a very good position to be able to deliver the objective, namely a very positive outcome of this exercise, with a good treaty that improves the situation of visually impaired persons and the print disabled.”

The General Assembly decided that a diplomatic conference should be convened in June 2013, in Morocco, with a mandate to negotiate and conclude a treaty.

Furthermore, the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) will meet in a special session for five days in February to expedite further text-based work on the draft treaty, document SCCR/25/2 [pdf] “in order to reach sufficient level of agreement on the text.”

The assembly also directs “the Preparatory Committee to meet at the end of the February SCCR meeting to decide, if needed whether additional work is required with the objective of holding a successful Conference in June 2013,” the decision says. It also states that the preparatory committee will invite observers.

The assembly decision has five paragraphs. With respect to paragraph 4 of the decision (on the special work session in February), Zvekić said, “we agreed to state for the record that in this paragraph, the phrase ‘additional work’ means additional work by either the SCCR or the preparatory committee, so that the preparatory committee can decide that either itself, the SCCR, or both may have additional work to do in order to prepare a revised text for the diplomatic conference.”

Document SCCR/25/2, which contains the draft articles as approved by the last SCCR session in November, “will constitute the substantive articles of the Basic Proposal for the Diplomatic Conference,” the decision says, “with the understanding that any Member State and the special delegation of the European Union may make proposals at the Diplomatic Conference.”

The assembly also established a preparatory committee, which met at the close of the assembly this morning to work on modalities of the diplomatic conference, such as the draft rules of procedure, the list of states and organisations to be invited, and the agenda, dates, venue and other organisational questions.

Blue Sky with Some Clouds

The new consensus on a diplomatic conference and on a legally binding treaty to create exceptions and limitations to copyright for the benefit of visually impaired people cannot eclipse the fact that the draft text still reflects profound divisions between countries.

In February, delegates will have to tackle remaining issues, such as the inclusion of the three step test and commercial availability, on which they currently are at a standstill. Both inclusions are favoured by developed countries, in an effort to protect their right holders.

Yesterday morning, the delegation of Barbados said the treaty should be effective, and “while acknowledging the importance of safeguards,” it is important that “provisions in the text would not unduly restrict authorised entities from making accessible formats available under national law exceptions.”

“Provisions should not render the text nugatory through exposing authorised entities to possible liability and making their work administratively burdensome,” the delegate said.

In a press release [doc] issued today by the World Blind Union (WBU), Maryanne Diamond, leader of the WBU Right To Read campaign, said, “The decision of the WIPO Extraordinary General Assembly today is a very significant milestone on the road to a treaty. It means governments have kept the work on track to agree a binding and effective treaty in 2013, which if completed would allow blind people to access many thousands more books.”

“The work is far from over, though. We urge all parties to now negotiate a simple, binding and effective treaty. A good treaty will really help us to end the book famine in which only some one to seven percent of books are ever made accessible to us,” the release said.

Rahul Cherian, from Indian WBU member Inclusive Planet, also said in the release that “the objective of this treaty must be that of helping blind and print disabled people to get accessible format books, especially in developing countries. To achieve this goal, it must be workable and simply worded so that blind and print disabled people and their organisations can use it to really make a difference.”

Currently in many countries, copyright law prevents charities from making accessible copies of books, and from sending them to others in countries speaking the same language, the release said. “The WIPO treaty sought by the World Blind Union would remove these copyright barriers and open up a new world of reading to blind people.”

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

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