July 21st, 2011
The prospect of agreement on an international treaty to allow accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across borders, giving people with print disabilities wider access to books, has brightened following a recent meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
At a specially-extended June session in Geneva of the organisation’s standing committee on copyright and related rights (SCCR), WIPO member states agreed to merge previously separated formal positions on the issue into a single draft document, clearing the way for treaty negotiations later this year, E-Access Bulletin has learned.
Before the meeting, discussion of the issue had been fragmented between four draft texts developed separately by the World Blind Union; a grouping of African countries; the EU; and the US. In the run-up to the June meeting, the WBU had facilitated the merger of these documents into a single new draft.
“That was a big success, as countries were no longer defending their own proposals,” Dan Pescod, WBU Vice Chair, told E-Access Bulletin this month. “We are pleased with the text – negotiation by committee is always a compromise, but we are 80% of the way towards an acceptable final text of a law.”
Areas of compromise in drawing up the single text include a softer wording on the relationship between the new copyright exception law and contract law, Pescod said. “We wanted something that made it very clear that contract law could not undermine copyright exceptions, but it has been left somewhat open to interpretation in the new text as currently worded,” he said. “It has left it to member states to decide how they address this issue, whereas the WBU does not want any rights-holder to be able to draw up a contract which removes the copyright exception.”
Another ongoing area of debate is the issue of which organisations will be permitted to send digital files across borders under the copyright exception, Pescod said.
Some rightsholder groups want a system of formal requirements to determine who can become such ‘trusted intermediaries’, and also which books can be sent and which ones can’t, he said. But the WBU would prefer a less formal system whereby ‘authorised entities’ would not have to be pre-approved, or gain fresh permission each time for individual titles.
The discussion now moves on to the next SCCR meeting on 21 November, where the detail of the final text could be decided, and a decision taken as to whether it will become a full international treaty or simply a ‘recommendation’.
The EU has been the biggest block on creation of a full treaty (see E-access Bulletin, April issue), with strong pressure from rightsholders in countries including France to resist any systematic exceptions to copyright law.
But this would represent double standards, Pescod said. “In the very same committee meeting this June, WIPO Member States agreed that a treaty on the protection of audiovisual performances should be concluded. We do not think print disabled people deserve a lesser solution.”