Closed Discussions At WIPO On Treaty For Blind, As New Text Emerges

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Delegates at the World Intellectual Property Organization working to clean the text of a potential treaty facilitating access to books for visually impaired people produced a new version this morning.

A special session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) is taking place from 18-22 February. Governments are trying to bridge gaps before a high-level meeting in June to possibly adopt an instrument/treaty providing copyright limitations and exceptions for the benefit of visually impaired people.

The new text [pdf] “on an international instrument/treaty on limitations and exceptions for visually impaired persons/persons with print disabilities” was issued today and modifications to the original text [pdf], in the form of footnotes, presented in plenary session by the WIPO secretariat.

In Article C, “National law limitations and exceptions on accessible format copies,” footnotes have been added. Footnote 4 stating, “the wording of this reference should be technically improved,” refers to the WIPO Copyright Treaty as mentioned in paragraph A of Article C on exception or limitation to the right of reproduction, the right of distribution, and the right of making available to the public as defined in the “WIPO Copyright Treaty.”

Footnote 5 says that “Nigeria and Switzerland will propose an Agreed Statement to address the concepts of providing a right of translation within national territories and/or when languages are identified as official languages in national constitutions.” The issue of translation is of particular importance for developing countries, according to developing country sources.

Footnote 6 reads: “Drafting group [Singapore/African Group/EU/India/US] to work with the following proposal discussed on February 18: A Member State/Contracting Party may confine limitations or exceptions [in its national law that fulfill its obligations under this Article to published works which, in the particular accessible format, cannot be obtained commercially under reasonable terms for beneficiary persons in that Member State’s market.” Some of the footnote is bracketed in the text, not reproduced above for easier reading.

This touches upon the issue of commercial availability, which has been a line of divide between developed and developing countries.

In Article D, “Cross-border exchange of accessible format copies” – which is one of the reasons the treaty was first considered – two footnotes were also added but with the understanding that if no agreement could be found before the end of the session on Friday 22 February, they would be deleted.

Footnote 7 deals with the right of authorised entities to distribute or make available accessible format copies to a beneficiary person in another member state without the authorisation of the right holder. Footnote 8 describes a process to determine the availability of accessible format copies in the importing member states.

In Article E, “Importation of accessible format copies,” a footnote was also added with the same conditions that if no agreement is found by the end of the session, it would be deleted. Footnote 12 also pertains to the commercial availability, and is presented as an alternative to the commercial availability clause in Article D.

Transparency For Observers, No External Communications Allowed

Following the requests of non-governmental organisations, observers to the SCCR special session, member states agreed that a live audio feed of the closed discussions taking place with regional coordinators and a small number of country delegates in a smaller room be broadcast in the plenary room.

But the agreement was accompanied by a strict ban on communications to the public. Vice-Chair Alexandra Grazioli from Switzerland said the same rules would be adopted as in the last session of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), which took place from 4-8 February. Both committees have entered drafting discussions with sensitive issues.

As during the IGC, NGOs and delegates were warned against reporting on the informal discussions, in particular relaying information on the internet, as this would jeopardise the work of delegates trying to find compromise, and “creative” and “constructive” solutions, she said.

In a stern statement, Grazioli said “We ask that the integrity and informality of the negotiations be respected and maintained.” The audio feed is provided in the interest of transparency, however, “all persons are requested not to communicate to the public,” on the content and nature of the discussions taking place in the smaller groups “whether by general terms or by way of quoting specific individuals or delegations.”

“This includes tweeting, blog posts, news stories and email listservs,” she said, adding that “in the event that this request is not observed we reserve the right to seek the SCCR’s consent to take such action that may be necessary to preserve the integrity of the process.” So it could be decided to stop the audio feed to the plenary room, she said.

World Blind Union Asking Limits on Proliferation of Clauses

A World Blind Union representative wished to remind delegates that visually impaired and print-disabled people “really do need a very clear, simple and effective text in this treaty so as to serve the people this treaty is about.”

“When we see a proliferation of clauses on things like commercial availability” he said, “we try and think on how that would work in practice…. [W]e have great concerns and we do not feel that those clauses help achieve the aim to ensure that a greater number of books and information are available to print disabled and blind people.”

He asked delegates to “allow an element of trust and flexibility when it comes to the implementation of this treaty so that it really works on the ground.”

Catherine Saez may be reached at

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