WIPO VIP Treaty: Opening Statements Lay Out Differences

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Displays of good intentions peppered the two first days of World Intellectual Property Organization negotiations on a treaty facilitating access to books for visually impaired people. However, countries pleading for flexibility reaffirmed their previous positions. Developed countries seeking to preserve the international copyright system, and developing countries assuring that the treaty is not jeopardising this system.

The WIPO diplomatic conference is taking place from 17-28 June in Marrakesh, Morocco. Long opening statements, which spanned across almost two days, were delivered by a number of country delegates, some of them blind. Some of them detailed national legislation adopted in their countries to include people with disabilities such as visual impairment, into the community, facilitating their access to health, education and employment.

Developing Countries: Treaty No Threat to Copyright System

Most of developing countries that took the floor deflected the suspicion that the treaty might weaken the well-established copyright system. India cited the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Article 7 on objectives. This article establishes that IP rights should contribute to the promotion of technological innovation to the mutual advantage of producers and users and in “a manner conducive to social and economic welfare, and to a balance of rights and obligations.” India called for a balanced treaty.

Developing countries also mentioned the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and in particular Article 30 (Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport). Brazil, for example, said in its opening statement [pdf] that in 2008, the country ratified the convention and that “This was the first human rights treaty approved in the country with the status of a constitutional amendment.”

The treaty, Brazil said, “should not expand nor reduce the obligations and rights that already exist in the international copyright system. On the contrary, the agreement has been constructed in harmony with the universally recognised right of authors over the products of their work in a balanced and socially fair manner.”

Also of concern is the inclusion of new “conditionalities” creating additional barriers to the production and circulation of works in accessible formats, in particular in the context of Article D (Cross-border exchange of accessible format copies), the delegate said, adding that this topic represents the “major added value” of the treaty.

On 19 June, a text was issued in Committee I, in charge of proposing text to the plenary on Article D (IPW, WIPO, 19 June 2013). Work during the diplomatic conference is being carried out in several committees, Committee I is in charge of proposing text for adoption by the plenary.

“We believe that the international copyright regime is sufficiently mature, both technically and politically, to respond to the challenge of the ‘book famine’ without implying a risk to its capacity to protect the interests of rights holders,” the delegate said, adding ” We are not in a commercial negotiation, where a dynamic of bargaining is established in which countries make concessions in exchange for certain benefits.”

Developing Country Views; Is Treaty Non-Binding for LDCs?

Some countries expressed worries about the work remaining to be done on the text and the time left to do so, such as Peru and Singapore, which also said that the outcome of the negotiations is important for WIPO’s role in norm-setting and would reflect on the efficiency of multilateral diplomacy.

Peru added that the IP system is not only a key instrument fostering innovation and economic development, but also provides the necessary flexibilities to balance rights and obligations between rights holders and beneficiaries.

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The delegate from Iran said that his country not only supports the current treaty being negotiated but also believes that the exercise of existing limitations and exceptions should be extended to access to copyrighted works for educational and research purposes. Other international treaties need to be developed to provide exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives, which are institutions with a public function.

The delegate from Bangladesh said in his statement that for least-developed countries, “intellectual property is yet to prove to be a consistent method for development as IP could not develop beneficially in these countries due to a host of historical reasons.”

“The existing global IP regime,” he said, “did not uniformly benefit all the states in the same way,” adding that all multilateral fora have recognised that LDCs “will be exempted from any binding commitment.”

“The recent decision of the TRIPS Council of WTO to extend the transition period for the LDCs was another example in this regard. In the same vein, we will mention here that LDCs will not be subject to any binding conditionality under this treaty also,” he said (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 12 June 2013).

Developed Countries

Australia said the treaty should reduce “unreasonable barriers in copyright law” for visually impaired persons but should also be consistent with existing copyright treaties “which provide for economic and moral rights for copyright owners.” The treaty should not “hinder development of new business models and technological advances for commercial distribution to improve accessibility for visually impaired persons,” the delegate said.

The US delegates said that in 2012, President Obama delivered a statement in favour of an international instrument ensuring that copyright is not a barrier to equal access to information, culture, and education for visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities. The statement was a joint statement with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. The US reaffirms this commitment, the delegate said.

Improving access to visually impaired people is an issue of the highest priority for US, committing to combatting the book famine, he said. While contours of the future system are in place, he added, some critical and challenging issues must be resolved in particular the issue of the relationship of this agreement with the existing framework of copyright treaties.


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

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