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A “tax on accessible books”: mixed emotions at Marrakesh Treaty progress

The latest agreement in the process of implementing the Marrakesh Treaty, which aims to help end the ‘book famine’ faced by blind and visually impaired people, has been met with a mixture of praise and frustration.

The treaty aims to increase the availability of books in accessible formats, such as Braille and e-books, by relaxing copyright laws which make it difficult or time-consuming to share accessible books across different countries (read e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage of the Marrakesh Treaty at the following link: http://eab.li/6j ).

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Accessible book body to focus on developing countries

An initiative to increase production and dissemination of accessible format books for blind and print-impaired readers in developing countries has been launched by a group of international bodies.

Members of the new Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) include the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO); the World Blind Union (WBU); the DAISY talking book format; the International Publishers Association; and the International Authors Forum. It is intended as a stop-gap measure pending implementation of a WIPO treaty on access to printed works for blind and print-impaired people, signed in July last year.

The ‘Marrakech Treaty’ will eventually allow exceptions to international copyright laws permitting sharing of accessible printed materials, but must first be ratified by 20 countries, a process still being completed.

Maryanne Diamond, chair of the WBU’s ‘Right to Read’ campaign, told E-Access Bulletin the consortium will be testing some elements that need to be in place for implementation of the treaty.

“[It] provides the opportunity to trial different ways to get books in the hands of persons who are blind,” Diamond said. “It will undertake capacity building of: publishers to publish accessible [books] and organisations in developing countries to produce and distribute accessible books,” she said.

Further work will focus on will focus on boosting demand for accessible books among groups of blind and print-impaired people in developing countries, including work already underway in Bangladesh.

Other areas of work for the ABC include talking with publishers and (printed materials) rights holders, and urging them to publish their texts in accessible formats. Once the Marrakech Treaty is fully ratified, the body’s work will scale back, Diamond said.

A detailed report on the Marrakech Treaty and its background can be found in a previous issue of E-Access Bulletin.

‘Historic’ Accessible Copyright Treaty is ‘Miracle In Marrakech’

An historic international treaty to increase book access for blind and visually impaired people has finally been adopted at a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) after almost six years of wrangling, negotiations and setbacks.

Signed at a WIPO conference in Marrakech, Morocco, the treaty will allow exceptions to copyright laws so accessible versions of books and other printed material can be shared internationally for blind and visually impaired people to use. Up to now, such sharing of books has not been possible due to objections from copyright holders in some countries.

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Accessible Copyright Treaty Hits New Roadblock

The World Blind Union (WBU) has reacted angrily to a new setback to long-running work on an international copyright treaty which could improve access to accessible books for blind and visually impaired people.

The union has been a key negotiator in talks at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) which have been going on for almost five years. Following the latest round of talks from 18-20 April in Geneva, the WBU released a statement saying the discussions “devoted almost no time to insuring that the treaty will encourage the cross border sharing of desperately needed books for the blind”, concentrating instead on protecting the rights of existing copyright holders.

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Courts Freeze Samsung Battle Against Apple Screen Reader

A lawsuit in Germany in which mobile handset maker Samsung is attempting to force its rival Apple to remove the VoiceOver screen reader function from its iPhone smartphones in the country has been halted by the courts.

VoiceOver allows users to have content on the screen read aloud to them. It is marketed as an accessibility aid for blind and visually impaired users, since it can help people use and navigate an iPhone by touch and audio alone.

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“Finish Line In Sight” for Accessible Copyright Treaty

After what will have been five years of negotiations, an international treaty to allow the sharing of accessible copyrighted material across borders for use by blind and visually impaired people could finally be signed in 2013, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

A “roadmap” for formalising a treaty, which would increase book access for disabled people including blind and visually impaired people, has finally been approved at this month’s World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) general assembly in Geneva ( http://bit.ly/OqkKxp ).

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Digital books in Italy: Reading Without Barriers

By Michele Smargiassi

They can’t see their books: maybe this is why they read them with such an extraordinary passion. On average, in Italy, a blind person reads 9.2 books a year, while among sighted Italians only two in ten people read so many. Six blind people out of ten read a few pages of a book at least once a week, while 53.2% of Italians never, ever, read. In short, the blind read much more than the sighted.

“The thirst for knowledge is strongest where there is a barrier,” says Orlando Paladino, president of the Unione Italiana Ciechi (Italian Union of the Blind). Or perhaps, where a barrier falls. The data outlined above from a new survey by the Italian Publishers’ Association (Associazione Italiana Editori – AIE: http://www.aie.it ) would probably have been very different 15 years ago, when it was impossible to read books on a computer, or to have them translated into Braille on a tactile display. (more…)

New Setback For Global Copyright Exception Treaty

Moves to create an international treaty to allow accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across borders, giving people with print disabilities wider access to books, received a setback this month following “aggressive” intervention by EU negotiators.

Between 21 November and 2 December, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) held a meeting in Geneva of its standing committee on copyright and related rights that negotiators for the World Blind Union (WBU) had hoped would clear the way for agreement on a copyright treaty.

Hopeful signs had emerged from a June session of the committee, at which WIPO member states had agreed to merge several previously separate positions into a single draft document which became known as “the chair’s text” (see E-Access Bulletin, July 2011). The new meeting, however, cast uncertainty on the plans after the chair, Manuel Guerra Zamarro from Mexico, unexpectedly invited members to submit further amendments.

Negotiators for the EU subsequently attempted to reintroduce clauses that would require rights-holders to formally authorise and pre-approve organisations to use any exception, a condition the WBU says would render the whole exercise close to pointless.

“The EU decided to submit a raft of new and aggressive amendments which moved us even further away from an agreed text”, WBU Vice Chair Dan Pescod told E-Access Bulletin. “They were trying to shoe-horn back in the idea of authorisation, but this is a no-no – the whole point of this exception is you will use it when you haven’t been given any help from rights-holders.”

The new proposed amendments have now been captured in a working document which Pescod says must be fully discussed between member states ahead of the next WIPO meeting in July 2012. “What we are now urging is for the member states to come together before the next meeting to agree the basis for a new single text, rather than have a situation where each time people throw down amendments, go away and don’t consider them until the next meeting,” he said.

Another vital issue remains, of whether the new agreement becomes a legally binding treaty – as urged by the WBU – or softer non-binding guidelines, but Pescod hopes all can be resolved in July. “I am still optimistic that we can finish this work next year, ahead of a formal diplomatic conference in 2013.”

If he is right, new ground will be broken: WIPO normally acts to reinforce protection for rights-holders, whereas this treaty would reinforce access for users. And it will not have been easy: formal negotiations on a treaty began two and a half years ago, in May 2009.

Charities Push For Binding Treaty On Global Book Access

UK and European blindness charities are stepping up the pressure on politicians ahead of a decisive meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to consider rules allowing accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across borders, giving people with print disabilities wider access to books.

Negotiations at the WIPO General Assembly later this month, followed by a meeting of the organisation’s standing committee on copyright and related rights (SCCR) in November, are likely to settle a long-standing debate on whether access rights to copyright works should be the subject of a binding international treaty of merely a voluntary ‘recommendation’.

EU negotiators have been lobbying against full treaty status under strong pressure from rightsholders in some member states. However the European Blind Union has now submitted a petition to the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee to be heard on 3 October saying the EU’s position contravenes its own charter.

“By opposing such a treaty, the EU Commission and Member States are clearly failing to recognise and respect the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community”, the petition says. “In doing so the commission is failing to live up to its commitments to article 26 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on the integration of persons with disabilities.”

Meanwhile the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has responded to a UK government consultation on the copyright negotiations saying the EU’s position in calling for a voluntary code or ‘soft law’ runs counter to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which “makes explicit disabled people’s right to accessible information… and that ‘laws protecting IP rights should not place unreasonable or discriminatory barriers in the way of access to cultural materials’.”

“No rights holder organisation would accept the idea that voluntary codes of good behaviour signed by consumer organisations could be so effective in ensuring an acceptable level of rights holder protection that they would remove the need for binding copyright law. We likewise reject the argument that voluntary cooperation and licensing can replace a legally binding right of access to works by print disabled people.”

The RNIB rejected moves by some EU negotiators to suggest a ‘two-step’ approach, with a joint recommendation to be followed by returning to discussions on a treaty at a later date but with no guarantee any treaty would emerge.

“RNIB would like to underline that a two-step approach simply postpones – possibly for many years- a full and long overdue solution to a problem first identified back in the 1980s… it would put in place a second class solution for disabled people, in contrast with the first class solution –treaties – offered to rights holders to protect their interests.”

The November meeting is also likely to settle the final wording of the text of the proposed recommendation or treaty, including the relationship between the new copyright exception law and contract law, following progress in June towards a single draft document involving compromise on both sides (see July issue coverage).