Books for the Blind Get International Treaty Win
It took more than a decade, but word is that an international copyright treaty for the blind has finally passed, removing copyright hurdles and giving visually impaired individuals around the world broader access to specially formatted books.
The agreement, known as the World Intellectual Property Organization’s treaty for visually impaired persons, will allow such books to be distributed internationally—something not currently permitted—and encourage governments to allow books to be converted to accessible formats without having to get repeated permission from copyright owners.
The U.S. publishing industry and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had opposed the agreement and lobbied hard to water it down, arguing that an international treaty making it easy to bypass copyrights could do major harm in the digital age. But advocates for the blind, who lobbied hard in favor of the treaty, appear to have prevailed.
The treaty will allow the specially formatted books—many in a digital form that can be read by a computer—to be accessed by the estimated 300 million blind and visually impaired people in the world. Only 1 percent of the world’s books are currently in such a format.
With passage of the treaty, advocates are hoping to see a sharp increase in the number of books made accessible to the blind. In addition, books already formatted for people with reading and sight disabilities can be distributed in places where copyright restrictions previously prevented that distribution.
The MPAA has received a lot of negative press because of its opposition to the treaty. And last week, Stevie Wonder appealed to negotiators from the 186 member nations working in Marrakesh, Morocco. “Let’s get this ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered (and) I’m Yours,’ ” the world-famous musician, who is blind, told the negotiators in a video statement—borrowing from the lyrics of one of his early hits. “Do this and I will come to Marrakesh and we will celebrate together.”
Unlike other international treaties currently being negotiated, the WIPO treaty for the visually impaired was negotiated with transparency, public participation, and considerable openness. The U.S. government, through the Office of the United States Trade Representative, has insisted that negotiations for other treaties, including the next major intellectual property treaty—the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement—must take place behind closed doors.