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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 ).

The roadmap was first presented to a WIPO Copyright Committee meeting in July, but general assembly support was not a foregone conclusion after earlier interventions by the European Union delegation threatened to block progress. Last December, EU negotiators attempted to add clauses requiring rights-holders to pre-approve all copyright exceptions, a condition the World Blind Union (WBU) – a key player in WIPO negotiations – had warned would render the whole exercise “close to pointless” (see E-Access Bulletin, December 2011: http://bit.ly/rWAIrV ).

Speaking to E-Access Bulletin about the latest developments WBU Vice Chair Dan Pescod said: “[This] points to a clear finish line and provides the means to get there, and we’ve never had that before. This is fairly significant in terms of the seriousness that it demonstrates from pretty much all WIPO member states in saying, ‘all right, let’s now get this done.’”

Crucially, the roadmap identifies a timeline for finalising a treaty, with further work set to take place at WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights session in November and an extraordinary meeting of the general assembly set for December, as needed to call a diplomatic conference in 2013.

The next step is to create a text that can become an effective full treaty, said Pescod. “We don’t want a ‘trophy treaty’ which we couldn’t use on the ground. When all of this is said and done, the point wasn’t to have lots of negotiations, it was to get a law which allows more books to get into the hands of blind and other print-disabled people”, he said.

Two issues are now key, Pescod said. “One, that it should be a binding treaty; and two, that the content of the treaty we get is simple and workable, so that we can actually get people to receive more books, otherwise the whole thing is futile. We’ll be working really hard with member states to try and make sure we get the right provisions in this text, so we can really use it meaningfully.”

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