At the close of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Assemblies meeting on October 9, nations agreed to an aggressive work plan to reach consensus on an international treaty for people with print disabilities. “So close, yet so far” is an apt description of this step in the long diplomatic process.
The holdout in advancing the proposed treaty continues to be European Union member nations that believe the treaty–which would allow the cross-border transfer of accessible materials– is too broad. In order to allow cross border sharing, each nation would be required to have an exception for people with print disabilities in their respective copyright laws. A copyright exception would allow authorized entities — such as schools, libraries, and centers for the disabled — the right to make accessible copies and share those copies with other people who have print disabilities overseas. For instance, an authorized agency (including libraries) could send an accessible copy to another person in an African English speaking country. In spite of the European Commission (EC) directive that the EU finalize its approval of the treaty, the EU continues to drag its feet.
Behind the scenes are the copyright permission associations– influential lobbies representing rights holders– that continue to believe that an exception is not warranted. Yet, only 1 percent of published materials are accessible to the print disabled in developing countries, compared to 5 percent in the Unites States (also woefully small). In a classic case of market failure, publishers do not provide and sell accessible materials because the market is too small and would not be profitable. These same rights holders that do not want to sell accessible copies prefer that others make the copies — and pay them a fee, to boot!
In order to meet the needs of people with print disabilities, a copyright exception is needed. The U.S. delegation, which has taken the lead in the negotiation process, hopes to have final treaty or other legal instrument ready for a diplomatic conference — the final leg in the journey — next year.
The WIPO Assembly also agreed to continue work on a treaty or other legal instrument for the protection of traditional cultural expressions. The member nations are far from agreement over this controversial issue. ALA with the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) opposes the treaty because of the damaging impact it could potentially have on the public domain, fair use, the first amendment, and intellectual freedom. The LCA supports continued local collaboration among libraries and indigenous communities to reach agreement on access, display or other concerns about traditional cultural expressions held in the library.
Carrie Russell, OITP