Will the world’s governments agree a meaningful book treaty for blind people?
Marrakech-17th June 2013 – Today sees the start of a two-week UN meeting to conclude a new World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) treaty for people who are blind or have other print disabilities. The Marrakech diplomatic conference is set to agree a treaty that has been many years in the making. Will the world seize the opportunity to make it a good treaty so that blind people can share books across borders?
For many years, the World Blind Union has been campaigning for a new copyright treaty that would allow blind and partially sighted people to receive books in “accessible formats” such as Braille, large print and audio. We need the law to help us end the “book famine” in which only one to seven percent of books are ever published in such formats.
Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay proposed such a treaty at WIPO back in May 2009. Four years later, Marrakech presents a once in a lifetime chance to agree such a treaty. Will the sceptical EU and US negotiators join the rest of the world in Marrakech and agree an effective treaty to help end the “book famine”? Or will they negotiate a complicated and difficult-to-use treaty favoured by some industry lobbyists?
Maryanne Diamond, leader of the WBU delegation, commented, “We need the treaty to clearly permit cross-border sharing of accessible books both between organisations and directly from organisations to blind or print disabled individuals. We reject complicated requirements for checks on whether the books are commercially available. Such procedures would sacrifice the usability of the treaty on the altar of publisher reassurance.”
Dan Pescod, who leads WBU’s European campaign for the treaty, explained, “The EU negotiators have been championing clauses on “commercial availability”, and rejecting clauses which would allow books to be sent from blind people’s organisations directly to blind individuals who need them. This is the opposite position to the one called for by WBU and indeed by the European Parliament. This is the last- and most important- chance for EU negotiators to show they care about blind people’s access more than industry lobbyists and negotiate a workable treaty.”
Pablo Lecuona, who leads WBU’s Latin American treaty campaign, said, “This treaty must be written so that it allows blind and print disabled people to get accessible format books, especially in developing countries. To achieve this goal, it must be workable, simply worded and effective for blind and print disabled people and their organisations to use.
The heart of the treaty is cross-border sharing of works. We will push hard to ensure that the provisions on this matter are clear and simple.”
An end to the “book famine”
Even in 2013, blind people and others living with a print disability such as those with dyslexia still have very limited access to books. Only some 7% of published books are ever made accessible (in formats such as Braille, audio and large print) in the richest countries, and less than 1% in poorer ones. This is a “book famine”.
An international treaty for blind people
The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) makes treaties and other international laws on copyright
Back in 2009 the World Blind Union, Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay proposed a WIPO treaty to help relieve the book famine in which fewer than 1% of books are published accessibly in developing countries, and only some 7% in the most developed.
Briefly, the new treaty would:
- Allow specialist organisations to make accessible copies of books in all signatory countries
- Make it legal to send accessible books across national borders
- Still respect copyright law: it is not an attack on publishers!
- Make more books available for blind people
- Accessibility, Access, Inclusion
- World Blind Union
- Media Release
- Date published:
- Fri 28th Jun, 2013