25 November 2011

WIPO SCCR begins push to finalise nature of instrument for the visually impaired

Following three days dedicated to a discussion of limitations and exceptions for library and archives at WIPO in Geneva, on Thursday, 24 November, the SCCR moved on to the pressing topic of a legal instrument to increase access to reading material for the visually impaired.

The world’s leading organisations representing the reading disabled have been engaged at WIPO for nearly 30 years. Their aim is to end the ‘book famine’ whereby some 95 percent of books published in rich countries and 99 percent in poorer countries are never converted into accessible formats such as audio, large print or braille. They want to do this by securing a binding WIPO treaty that will compel Member States to create exceptions in their copyright law to allow the visually impaired community to legally make their own accessible copies of books, even where publishers have not given their express authorisation. The treaty would also contain an exception to allow works to be transferred across borders, thus vastly increasing the amounts of accessible-format works available to the visually impaired. At present, a blind person’s organisation in the United Kingdom cannot benefit from tens of thousands of books in English made accessible thanks to the USA’s copyright exception.

Libraries have a major role to play in helping the visually impaired as they are often the only source of accessible format reading information, and provide services and programmes to help visually impaired persons find the books they wish to read. IFLA, EIFL and other library groups at WIPO are closely monitoring the discussions at WIPO regarding the definition of ‘authorised entity’ in any legal language produced by the SCCR. The ‘authorised entities’ are the institutions that will be allowed to provide accessible format under copyright exceptions. The definition must be flexible enough to allow libraries to help solve the problem.

The SCCR spent the day hearing opening statements from NGOs, including IFLA, EIFL, CLA and LCA, and then moved onto preliminary discussion of the text on the table, the Proposal on an international instrument on limitations and exceptions for persons with print disabilities (SCCR 22/16). At the same time as this document is being discussed in plenary, negotiations between the World Blind Union and the International Publishers Association continue in side rooms to see if agreement can be reached on appropriate language.

Discussions will continue, with a view to agreeing on a text before the end of the SCCR (Dec 2, 2011). 

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