Tuesday, May 14, 2013

WIPO Treaty for the Visually Impaired in Trouble

As negotiators at WIPO prepare for a June 17-22 diplomatic conference in Marrakesh to create a new international instrument/treaty for the benefit of the visually impaired.  The treaty is intended, by its proponents, to make copyright works more accessible to the visually impaired.  It is currently estimated that only 5% of works are available in a accessible format.  Stevie Wonder and other key activists have been proponents of the treaty.

Negotiations have, according to reports (and here), hit stumbling blocks that could foil the agreement.  WIPO held an "Informal and Special Session" to discuss the instrument in April that concluded by posting a draft text (of April 20) of the instrument/treaty, available here.  Media conglomerates, copyright lobby groups, the Obama administration, and the European Commission have sought to weaken or derail the treaty.  The draft text has been filled with brackets and alternatives that will make a final agreed text more difficult to come to.  It is now feared that the conference will end in a deadlock, or in a treaty that contains so much red tape it will be utterly useless.  I have observed in my book that this has been the result of many efforts to create copyright exceptions,  including the provisions of the 1971 Berne Convention, which was intended, but failed utterly, to create copyright exceptions for developing countries.

An access to information request has shown the close involvement of UK publishers with the UK negotiators.  Intellectual property owners argue that any treaty on users' rights that doesn't have something in it for them is unacceptable.

Knowledge Ecology International held a discussion on the instrument/treaty.  Video clips are available here.