The WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) met for its second special session (SCCR/SS/GE/2/13) last week to undertake further work on the draft negotiating text for an international treaty on copyright limitations and exceptions for visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities. The treaty itself is to be negotiated at a diplomatic conference in Marrakech from 17-28 June 2013 at which IFLA will be represented.

IFLA was represented at this meeting by library copyright consultant, Barbara Stratton, a member of the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance in the UK, who also serves on EBLIDA’s Expert Group on Information Law and IFLA’s Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters.

This session concentrated almost exclusively on the issues surrounding commercial availability (and the Three-step Test (3ST)) in Articles C (National law limitations and exceptions on accessible format copies), D (Cross border exchange of accessible format copies) and (Importation of accessible format copies) plus Article F on the circumvention of technological protection measures (TPMs), plus minor discussion on translations (Article C1B). In general the outcome has produced a shorter but much more complex draft treaty than was originally proposed in 2008-09, which has kept at a minimum any onus on rightholders, but has created bureaucratic burdens for the national authorised entities that would be trying to implement the treaty for the benefit of reading disabled people. Given its complexity it looks to be largely unworkable in practice.

The new negotiating text that will form the basis for discussions at the Marrakech Diplomatic Conference in June can currently be downloaded from Knowledge Ecology International’s (KEI) website, although in time the formal document and the Conclusions of the meeting will appear on the WIPO meeting page.

The negotiating text arrived at for Marrakech is not sufficiently helpful to its supposed beneficiaries. Unless substantial changes are made, reading disabled people around the world, particularly in developing and transition countries, would be granted a ‘trophy treaty’ that will not work on the ground, so they would continue to be denied or restricted in their enjoyment of what is a most important human right for everyone, the right to read which underpins every individual’s ability to succeed in the world.

This could be worse for reading disabled people than no treaty at all as it would not be reopened for decades to put it right. Shockingly, the human rights of an already very disadvantaged and large group of people who depend on access to reading in order to have any hope in advancement are being made subservient to the unsubstantiated fears of rightholders that copyright will be weakened.