Developing Countries Lack Capacity To Take Advantage Of Marrakesh Treaty

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The 2013 Marrakesh Treaty has been applauded by beneficiaries throughout the world for answering the need for wider access to special format works for visually impaired people. However, the path to its implementation, even after it is ratified by enough countries, appears to be strewn with difficulties in developing countries, which will need capacity-building, according to a speaker at a discussion panel organised today by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The WIPO secretariat, in order to facilitate the implementation of the treaty, will organise events alongside the next sessions of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), covering a different topic at each session. This week’s topic was “Authorized Entities – Agents for Accessibility,” according to the secretariat.

The SCCR is meeting from 16-20 December.

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled was adopted in June (IPW, WIPO, 26 June 2013).

Under the treaty, the supply of books should be done through authorised entities. An authorised entity, as defined by the treaty is found in Article 2 (Definitions): “(c) ‘authorized entity’ means an entity that is authorized or recognized by the government to provide education, instructional training, adaptive reading or information access to beneficiary persons on a non-profit basis. It also includes a government institution or non-profit organization that provides the same services to beneficiary persons as one of its primary activities or institutional obligations.”

Authorised entities should also answer to several criteria:

“An authorized entity establishes and follows its own practices:

(i) to establish that the persons it serves are beneficiary persons;

(ii) to limit to beneficiary persons and/or authorized entities its distribution and making available of accessible format copies;

(iii) to discourage the reproduction, distribution and making available of unauthorized copies; and
(iv) to maintain due care in, and records of, its handling of copies of works, while respecting the privacy of beneficiary persons in accordance with Article 8.”

Efficient Service for the Blind in Canada

Margaret McGrory, vice president and executive director of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Library, presented the functioning of the library, which acts as an authorised entity, and the services provided to Canadian visually impaired people.

Similar in many ways to other libraries, the CNIB library, the largest public library of this type, has particular features, she said. Some 3.4 million Canadians are print disabled, she said, about 10 percent of the population.

CNIB offers a number of services such as a reader advisory service and adaptive technology support. In 2012, the library circulated some 2.6 million books, magazines and newspapers, she explained. CNIB also produces all alternative format of books, either from scratch or by getting them from other producers, according to McGrory.

McGrory said she participated in the WIPO-initiated TIGAR project, under the WIPO multi-stakeholders platform. The TIGAR project aims to facilitate cross-border access for visually impaired people to “copyrighted works in accessible formats in a reasonable time frame,” according to the TIGAR webpage.

A Number of Challenges in Developing Countries

For Dipendra Manocha, developing country coordinator for the DAISY Consortium, a global consortium of organizations working on improving ways to read, which is also involved in the TIGAR Project, the vision of a very efficient CNIB library cannot be compared to the conditions on the ground in developing countries.

A number of challenges, some of which could be alleviated through capacity building, are hindering the process of providing access to special format works to visually impaired people, he said.

In particular, the first requirement for an authorised entity is to be able to demonstrate that beneficiaries are print disabled. A recent visit to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, he said, showed that libraries serving the print disabled do not have registries, and no adequate process for registering beneficiaries, he said. Neither are they able to maintain records of transactions showing who received the books and how many copies they received, he said.

Authorised entities also need training to work with the files they receive, for example from publishers through the TIGAR system, he said. They need to be able to transform those files into the exact format or copy them on the right medium. Libraries for visually impaired persons in developing countries are often primarily manned by volunteers, he explained.

Missions in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Namibia revealed a number of practical challenges, he said, among which is the fact that in most developing countries, publishers and the visually impaired communities do not communicate and publishers are unaware of the needs of blind people.

Another challenge is that the local language fonts used in digital files of books are not Unicode compliant (The Unicode Standard “provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the platform, no matter what the program, no matter what the language,” according to the Unicode Consortium webpage). This leads to problems with computer reading software. “It is a disastrous situation,” Manocha said.

Yet other issues include the book delivery infrastructure being fragmented and resulting in the duplication of books, and the technology gap. In India, he said, there are 22 official languages but “text to speech” exists only for two of them, he said. Finally, the affordability of the technology remains a problem for developing country visually impaired users who need special tools, such as DAISY players.

Nevertheless, Manocha said the time ahead looks very exciting for developing countries, in particular in the context of the Marrakesh Treaty.

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

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