December 16th, 2011
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.