Access and copyright at odds as effort on treaty fails

Talks in late July in Geneva on an international treaty that would make it easier for publishers to create accessible books for the blind failed again to come to fruition.

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Copyright & Accessibility

The treaty, which was discussed as part of ongoing negotiations at the United Nation’s World Intellectual Property Organization, would force signees to create an exception in their domestic copyright laws that would allow published works to be converted into accessible formats without seeking permission from the copyright holder.

“We’re talking about a treaty to help the visually impaired, whose disability in a digital age is tantamount to a loss of liberty and full participation in the knowledge society,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a news release. “One of the reasons why the World Blind Union and other organizations with similar focus support the treaty is that they don’t want to be second-class citizens.

“How is a copyright change that makes the visually impaired full citizens in electronic society so difficult to achieve?”

A similar law already exists in the United States since 1996, according to a recent Huffington Post article. President Obama expressed support for the treaty back in 2009.

American publishing companies have been at the forefront of upholding the treaty, out of concern that the exception could be a slippery slope to other exemptions to domestic copyright law.

“We are not against allowing an exception for people with print disabilities, but our concern is that a treaty will establish a precedent that they will then apply in the other areas like educational uses, library and archives,” Allan Adler, vice president of legal and government affairs at the Association of American Publishers, told the Washington Post. “Generally, international treaties establish the minimal rights of the copyright owners first, and not the limitations and exceptions to those rights.”

The EFF estimates that 95 percent of books in rich countries and 99 percent of books in poor countries are never converted into an accessible format.

One response to “Access and copyright at odds as effort on treaty fails

  1. I find it quite difficult for the disability exceptions to turn into an expanded exception for educational uses. It is important to note that the exception is for converting formats, the organization must obtain copyrights to reuse it. The accessibility to information is recognized in the UN CRPD, and what we see here is the confusion between human rights and the market. Do we want to sacrifice basic human rights for purposes of the market? Knowledge should not be completely free for people lose incentive to expand it, but there shouldn’t be high costs for people who seek to obtain it. I hope next year the treaty can be realized without this irrelevant slippery slope argument.

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