Blind Treaty Discussions Could Wander, All Sides Ask For Focus

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Consensus remains elusive for World Intellectual Property Organization trying to prepare a text for final negotiations on an international instrument facilitating access to books and information to blind people, and some countries are growing concerned.

This morning, on the third day of the weeklong special session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), the WIPO secretariat presented the plenary meeting of delegates with a summary of the closed informal meetings that took place yesterday.

No new text was issued today, due to a lack of consensus on the drafting exercise, the secretariat said. The informal discussions focussed in particular on how the treaty would fit with other international copyright treaties, such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

Discussions also centered on the principles of application on page 21 of the last version of the draft text [pdf], the secretariat said, and a small negotiating group discussed scenarios on how to treat the three step test in the context of the treaty, and whether it should be included within the treaty itself. One specific situation was evoked in which new or unanticipated technological developments would lead to the development of exceptions that were not anticipated in the agreement and how the three step test might interact with that situation.

The three step test comes from Article 9(2) of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. It provides exceptions to the right of reproduction, stating that reproductions should not “conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author.”

The small drafting group did not yet find consensus, the Secretariat said. One of the concerns is how to express a general non derogation provision that would state that nothing in the treaty would affect existing obligations under other copyright treaties under which member states already have obligations.

The three step test has been one of the major division point between developed and developing countries (IPW, WIPO, 15 February 2013).

Developing Countries Concerned

The Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries (GRULAC) said their members were concerned with the current state of the negotiations on the eve of the diplomatic conference expected to take place in Morocco next June, and asked that delegations not forget the main objective, which is to help visually impaired people to access special formats. The GRULAC statement was supported by Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. 

“We should not be put off by the report of what is happening with the text when in fact what is going on has little to do with the text,” said the Venezuelan delegate. “There are matters and issues that have been introduced that are really political issues which should have been resolved in December when we called for a diplomatic conference, which have nothing to do with the text we are working on,” he said.

The Brazilian delegate said his country was committed to “have a treaty that makes a difference on the ground.” The delegation concentrated its efforts on Article C (beneficiary persons), Article D (cross-border exchange of accessible format copies), and Article E (Importation of accessible format copies).

Nigeria said that in Africa, the difficult conditions met by visually impaired people was worsened by poverty and lack of access to basic human needs, which made the work of the SCCR “enormously important.”

“The demand by certain countries for provisions in this text that are unnecessary for the implementation of this treaty has created challenges both structural and substantive but also normative for the capacity of individual countries to do even more for their visually impaired persons,” the Nigerian delegate said.

Developed Countries Ask for Focus on Availability of Special Formats

The European Union said the shared objective is to have a treaty that can be joined by as many states as possible for the benefit of the visually impaired worldwide. The EU delegate said that if the committee focusses on achieving a treaty that “addresses the issues that we are meant to address here – which is enhancing the availability of special format for the visually impaired – we should be able to reach a solution.” However, if issues are brought up that are unrelated to the problem we are trying to solve “we risk failing in our effort,” she said.

The United States rejoiced in the fact that everyone declared commitment and absolute resolve, although the two first days were frustrating, and said 57 countries have exceptions and limitations in their legislations and the efforts on this instrument had never been to judge national exceptions and limitations.

The French delegate regretted the “dramatisation” of issues this morning and that some comments were given in a lesson-giving tone. “Nobody has ‘le monopole du coeur'”, he said, borrowing a phrase that became famous in French politics and means nobody has a “monopoly of the heart”. He said nobody has a monopoly on defending human rights and the cause for visually impaired people should not be turned into an instrument.

Copyright not only serves authors in developed countries but also developing country creators’ intellectual independence and freedom of thought, he said, by providing them with an economic independence.

Catherine Saez may be reached at

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