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International Copyright Treaty On Accessible Formats Edges Closer

An international treaty allowing people to share accessible versions of copyright works across national borders moved a step closer last month, with an agreement by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to consult on the issue.

The 19th session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), held in Geneva in December ( http://bit.ly/cHnS2R ), agreed to host a series of consultation meetings aimed at producing an international consensus.

The move builds on a formal proposal for a treaty on copyright exceptions and limitations from the World Blind Union, backed by WIPO member states Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay earlier in 2009 and endorsed in December by others including the US.

For many years, disability organisations have protested against a frequent inability to produce accessible versions of copyright works, since this is viewed by many legal systems as the production of an illegal copy. Last year Amazon, the maker of the Kindle electronic book reader, disabled the reader’s text-to-speech function after publishers protested that accessible speech amounted to the creation of a new and unlawful audio copy (see E-Access Bulletin, March 2009: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=244 ). Exchange of accessible works across borders is doubly hard, as the law varies between countries and where there is a grey area, few are willing to risk taking any action.

Cynthia Waddell, Executive Director of The International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet ( http://www.icdri.org ), told E-Access Bulletin this month: “One of the main issues for the proposed treaty is to address the book famine of accessible works.

“At this time, it is estimated that 95% of printed works are not available in accessible formats. One goal of the proposed treaty is to reduce the cost redundancies for the creation of accessible works and to remove the barriers to exporting and importing accessible works. For example, copyright restrictions on the internationally-bestselling Harry Potter novels mean copies translated into accessible formats cannot be shared across national lines, but must be retranslated in every country.”

The WIPO committee undertook to circulate a questionnaire on national views and laws on copyright exceptions to member states, for replies by May 10, 2010. The committee will also gather examples of accessibility practices and solutions across member states. Results will be presented to the 20th session of the SCCR, set for June 2010.

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