Access for print disabled, library exceptions named top WIPO priorities

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) closed its latest copyright meeting with a two-year work plan to improve access to the print disabled and to identify potential library exceptions in international treaty agreements.  The Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) will devote several days of discussion at meetings in June and November 2011. This development suggests that WIPO is committed to address the rights of users of information in addition to its long-established emphasis on strengthening copyright and enforcement measures. A commitment to a legal instrument to improve access for the print disabled could come as soon as September 2011 at the WIPO General Assembly.

In its final conclusion, the SCCR “will undertake text-based work with the objective of reaching agreement on appropriate exceptions and limitations for persons with print disabilities and other reading disabilities.”

The U.S. library community was well represented by the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA)–of which ALA is a member–and internationally by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and the Electronic Information for Libraries (eIFL).  The LCA statement to the SCCR urged “the Member States to focus on the twin issues of a national exception for countries that currently lack an exception (for persons with disabilities), and the cross-border distribution of works” as well as “the development of a core set of library limitations and exceptions necessary to sustain a global information society.”

The U.S. Delegation to WIPO led by Justin Hughes, Under Secretary of Commerce in the USPTO, emphasized the need to address the issue of cross border sharing of accessible copies. Under international copyright law, member nations of WIPO cannot send accessible copies like Braille, large print, and audio texts to people with print disabilities in other nations.  Known as the “book famine,” only 1 percent of published materials are available to developing and least developed nations.  This immediate problem is directly linked to another associated WIPO priority, the “Development Agenda” that has identified access to educational and informational materials as a necessary means toward the achievement of material progress and welfare of developing nations.

Representing the LCA, Janice Pilch cautioned that complete success is not guaranteed but WIPO’s commitment to these issues is “an unprecedented opportunity” for the print disabled and for libraries.

Carrie Russell is the Director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books and other public policy issues. She has a MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a MA in media arts from the University of Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at crussell@alawash.org.

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