Blinded by the money, deaf to the needs

The history of the efforts done in WIPO to improve accessibility to universal knowledge for  the persns who are blind or have other disabilities is long and starts in 1981, when  the governing bodies of WIPO and UNESCO agreed to create a Working Group on Access by the Visually and Auditory Handicapped to Material Reproducing Works Produced by Copyright. The group meeting took place on October 25-27, 1982 in Paris, and produced a report that included model exceptions for national copyright laws.

Since then parties progressed on the topic and today the  Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR)  has  on its agenda,  a proposal for an internationally binding treaty to establish a targeted exception to copyright that creates minimum exceptions for persons who are blind or have other disabilities.

The purpose of the Treaty is to provide the necessary minimum flexibilities in copyright laws that are needed to ensure full and equal access to information and communication for persons who are visually impaired or otherwise disabled in terms of reading copyrighted works, in order to support their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others, and to ensure the opportunity to develop and utilize their creative, artistic and intellectual potential, not only for their own benefit, but also for the enrichment of society.

As stated in the proposed text, 90% of the of visually impaired persons live in countries of low or moderate incomes and other sources put the volume of publications  converted to ‘accessible formats’ such as Braille, large print or audio to only 5% of the total works.

The European Parliament having regard to the questions of 13 January 2012 to the Council and the Commission on Petition 0924/2011 by Dan Pescod (British), on behalf of European Blind Union (EBU)/Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), on access by blind people to books and other printed products (O-000005/2012 – B7-0029/2012 and O-000006/2012 – B7-0030/2012),  has called on the Council and Commission to support a binding WIPO treaty with regard to copyright on books and printed products for blind and visually impaired people, through its Resolution dated 16th February 2012.

In this context, many Member States have not yet presented presented their opinion despite the rising voices of their citizens and the will expressed by the European Parliament. For example,  Romania, a Member State having representatives in WIPO, (ORDA and OSIM) is silent, while its community of 117.000  visually impaired persons is lacking much of the basic access to information.

On 17th October, the subject will be once again on the agenda the WIPO SCCR and from the previous meetings we know that the proposal for an international treaty on exceptions to copyright seems to fall on deaf  ears of the more economically developed states, while being supported by most of the developing countries.

With the advent of European Union policies targeted to improve the quality of life for all EU citizens, the political will expressed by the European Parliament and most of the countries of the world, discussions in WIPO are tedious and seem not to take into account the urgent needs of the people.

This is one more reason for proceedings in WIPO to be transparent and under careful scrutiny.


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