|Pictured: Surprisingly unempathetic lady of justice |
Recently in one of our guest posts, Snigdha Roy made a note of the lack of international consensus towards a treaty that has, for too long, been in the offing. I can't fathom why discussion and debate over the necessity of an international treaty that would essentially give print disabled persons access to the same materials that others have always enjoyed, is something that would take four long years. But such is unfortunately the result when equitable access to information, to printed material that non-disabled people already enjoy, is not on top of the priority list of the powerhouse countries. About how many print disabled people are there? About 285 million. And how much of print material can they currently access due to conversion to accessible formats? About 7% in richer countries about about 1% in poorer countries.
Print Disability defined: Any person who cannot effectively read print due to any type of disability or handicap is said to be Print Disabled.
Print Disability explained: Imagine you have had the bad fortune to be in an accident which causes your vision to be damaged. Aside from the obvious changes you have to make to your daily routine, you can now no longer access the books, magazines, the internet, etc due to copyright restrictions which prevent them to be changed into a format accessible by you. Should the contents of these print materials be exclusively the privilege of people who are not (currently) print disabled? Apparently, this is something that requires extensive negotiations.
According to KEI: "The idea for the treaty was first proposed by a WIPO/UNESCO consultant Wanda Noel in 1985, but did not move in WIPO until the World Blind Union (WBU) and other NGOs including KEI proposed a draft treaty to WIPO in November 2008. In May 2009 Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay formally introduced the treaty text where it first meet stiff opposition from the United States and the European Union."
Those years of negotiation were recently in jeopardy when US (and EU to an extent) continued to oppose the formation of the treaty. However, in the recently concluded WIPO Extraordinary General Assembly, despite US coming in trying to downgrade the status of the treaty, and despite US and EU's attempts to implement a euphemistically termed "safety valve" (read: Kill switch) in the draft treaty, support for the treaty without these terms eventually prevailed. June, 2013, Marrakesh has been set as the date and place for a conference which will have the mandate to "negotiate and adopt a treaty on limitations and exceptions for visually impaired persons/persons with print disabilities" (pursuant to the draft text in SCCR/25/2).
As stated by Thiru Balasubramaniam of KEI:
"Most blind people live in developing countries where there are almost no resources to create accessible copies of copyrighted works. A strong Treaty for the Blind will unlock the large digital libraries of accessible works that are now off limits due to outdated international copyright rules. The agreement today provides new hope for the millions of blind and visually impaired persons that they will have expanded access knowledge and culture. WIPO will now be seen to be doing something positive for human rights. The decision to hold a diplomatic conference on the Treaty of the Blind is a clear victory over the opposition by among others, the US, the EU and France, who were insisting on publisher and movie industry demands that the treaty be blocked, weakened and or narrowed."
There has been substantial watering down of the draft since it was first prepared by the World Blind Union. And even now, while there is significant consensus, there are still differences on questions of commercial availability of accessible works, and how exactly cross border transactions will take place. EFF notes that the main beneficiaries are still optimistic though.
We will keep our fingers crossed till June. Hopefully the print & media lobbies in the richer countries will not be able to topple over any concepts of basic justice till then.