Centre for Internet & Society

Rahul Cherian provides an analysis of the comments by the World Blind Union and the International Publishers Association after the 23rd session of the Standing Committee of Copyright and Related Rights.

Before the WIPO intersessionals held on March 23 and 24 at Geneva between some member states to discuss the pending issues related to the Treaty for the Visually Impaired, the World Blind Union and the International Publishers Association came out with their comments/versions on the Chair’s text dated December 16, 2011. The Chair's text with comments of Member States is available here. [PDF, 364 Kb]

The World Blind Union document, available here [PDF, 314 Kb], attempts to build consensus in the text based on suggestions given by various Member States to the Chair’s text dated December 16, 2011. The inputs of Member States that would be beneficial to the intended beneficiaries of the Treaty, namely persons with visual impairment, print disabilities, etc. were incorporated into the World Blind Union document while suggestions of Member States that were detrimental to the intended beneficiaries were not added. As can be seen by the WBU document, several changes suggested by many Member States, including the United States, the European Union, the African Group, Pakistan, India, etc were incorporated into the WBU document. As far as possible the WBU document has tried not to add new wording which were not suggested by Member States to the Chair's text. The WBU document is, in my opinion, a genuine attempt at building consensus between Member States on the Treaty for the Visually Impaired.

On the other hand, the document proposed by the International Publishers Association [PDF, 215 Kb] is a different story. Rather than trying and building consensus, the IPA has taken a stand that is so extreme that the only aspect I could find in the entire document was that it was progressive. In the first paragraph of the introduction the IPA finally recognizes that persons with print disabilities must have access to works at the same time as others. Unfortunately it is all downhill from there. Given below are some of the suggested changes of the IPA and my comments on the IPA document from the perspective of its impact on India and other developing countries.

  1. The IPA proposes the deletion of the following paragraph from the Preamble: “Needing to contribute to the implementation of the relevant recommendations of the Development Agenda of the World Intellectual Property Organization,”
    From this proposed change, it appears that the IPA is opposed to the Development Agenda of the World Intellectual Property Organization. This change is completely unacceptable and unfortunately the further suggestions of the IPA seemed to reflect the anti-development mentality of the IPA.
  2. The IPA proposes that the exceptions and limitations cover only those works that are release in print format and excludes those works that are “born digital”. This implies that for new books which are going to be released only in digital formats, there should be no exceptions and that the beneficiaries should be able to convert those inaccessible versions into accessible versions. This is also unacceptable since persons with print disabilities must have equal access to all books and not only printed books.
  3. The IPA proposes that only those organizations that have the “primary” objective of assisting persons with print disabilities by providing them with services relating to education, training, adaptive reading, or information access needs shall be entitled to convert or distribute accessible format copies. This would mean those educational institutions and other organizations that make material accessible but not on a primary basis will be excluded. This is totally counterproductive if persons with disabilities are to have really equal access to reading material.
  4. The IPA proposes that authorized entities must maintain compliance policies and procedures regarding access and IT security that follow internationally recognized standards. It records appropriate usage information and provides this to rights holders in a transparent and timely manner.
    The compliance with this provision will prove extremely expensive and cumbersome for organizations, particularly those organizations in developing countries who are cash strapped. Moreover, it is unclear what these internationally recognized standards are. This addition is also unacceptable.
  5. The IPA proposes that only organizations that actually create an accessible format copy can export that copy to organizations in other countries. This would mean that every organization that exports books would have to re-create the accessible format copy thereby leading to tremendous replication of effort and wastage of precious resources. This is extremely counterproductive.
  6. The IPA proposes to add the following sentence to the text: Member States may choose other means for increasing the availability of accessible format copies, provided these means afford Beneficiaries with equally effective access to Works.
    By adding this one sentence the Treaty, which is intended to create minimum exceptions in each Member State, permits countries to move away from the E&L regime into a licensing regime. The benefits of the whole treaty could be negated with this one sentence.

Apart from these changes mentioned above, there are several other changes proposed by the IPA which are completely against the spirit of the Treaty. It is sad to note that instead of trying to reach a consensus the IPA has proposed some preposterous changes and negative changes to the text. But given the stand that they have taken in this document, possibly as a last ditch attempt to thwart the growing momentum for the Treaty, it is likely that the IPA’s disguise as a sheep has been blown away to reveal the wolf.

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