Saturday, May 29, 2010

WIPO Proposals Would Open Cross-Border Access To Materials For Print Disabled; Intellectual Property Watch, 5/28/10

Kaitlin Mara, Intellectual Property Watch; WIPO Proposals Would Open Cross-Border Access To Materials For Print Disabled:

"Negotiators trying to find a solution for the world’s print disabled, who have said copyright law is limiting their access to an already meagre supply of reading material in usable formats, began discussing a possible UN recommendation this week. But the print disabled and their strongest supporters have said such a recommendation – which would not be legally binding – would fall short of meeting their needs.

The critical issue is the ability to trade accessibly formatted books across country borders, which is currently restricted by copyright law. The World Blind Union drafted a treaty text, which was submitted a year ago to the World Intellectual Property Organization by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay.

The United States this week submitted draft proposal for a consensus instrument [pdf] to WIPO, where these discussions are being held. This instrument has a list of recommendations for governments on national laws to aid the import and export of accessible books.

The US delegation told Intellectual Property Watch that their consensus instrument was intended to be a “faster” solution, and is not mutually exclusive with – and indeed could be a step towards – the treaty that has been called for.

At the last meeting of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights in December 2009, some delegations – notably the European Union – refused to discuss a possible treaty, saying more facts were needed (IPW, WIPO, 22 December 2009).

At the December meeting, it was decided to hold an open consultation on the issues – the 27 May meeting – before the next SCCR meeting, scheduled for 21-24 June. Also, on 28 May, WIPO is discussing aspects of a proposed treaty to protect audiovisual performances.

But the governments behind the treaty proposal and civil society representatives of the print-disabled community expressed their doubts about the US’s intermediary solution.

“Our initial reaction… is that [the US proposal] falls short of our objectives, at least in a vital element – the format – for it is not a legally binding instrument,” Brazil, on behalf of these countries, said in a statement, available hereStatement Brazil VIP [doc]. They added they needed more time to fully analyse it.

The US proposal fails in several ways, Brazil said. Among them: it does not create a legal obligation for countries to make exceptions, meaning if either an exporting or importing country lacks an exception, the transfer cannot be made; it discriminates against different kinds of media and does not seem to cover works shared online, it does not address the potential need to circumvent technological protection measures or contractual restrictions on needed exceptions, and doesn’t express the specific needs of developing countries.

“This is far from what we need,” Chris Friend, chair of the World Blind Union Global Right to Read Campaign told Intellectual Property Watch, saying it would just lead to “more procrastination” rather than more speed.

Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay also submitted this week a proposed timetable, available here[pdf], for the adoption of a treaty for the visually-impaired that would see its completion in the spring of 2012.

If speed is desired, members might support this timetable proposal, said Dan Pescod, vice chair of the Right to Read Campaign.

Voluntary processes are unacceptable, said Jace Nair, the National Executive Director of the South African National Council for the Blind. “We have been depending on a voluntary process from rights holders for decades… it hasn’t helped.”

Pescod added that the World Blind Union respects the needs of rights holders and the copyright system, but added a “similar level of seriousness” is needed “to address this issue.” If rights holder’s needs are immediately moved to a treaty, why when it comes to disabled people’s needs are we not able to talk about the same thing, he asked. There is not an ACTA-style [Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement] recommendation; it is a treaty, he said."

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