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Proposed WIPO Treaty for Improved Access for the Visually Impaired and Reading Disabled

Posted by Nirmita Narasimhan at Nov 02, 2008 04:55 AM |
The Centre for Internet and Society is organising a signature campaign in India to lobby Indian government support for the proposed WIPO Treaty for Improved Access for the Visually Impaired and Reading Disabled. Signatories so far include Vidyavriksha, National Association for the Blind (Delhi), Saksham, National Federation for the Blind, Samarthanam (Bangalore), Mitrajyoti (Bangalore), Accessibility, Score Foundation, Alternative Law Forum (Bangalore), Acrodelon Technologies, Barrier Break Technologies and Enable India. This is a call for all Indian organisations and individuals to become part of this global movement to secure the rights to full and complete access and participation of the visually and reading disabled community of the world.

On 23 October, 2008, the World Blind Union (WBU), an organisation representing 180 million blind and visually impaired persons from 158 countries, submitted a proposal to the World Intellectual Property Organisation for a Treaty for Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons. WIPO´s 3-7 November 2008 meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) meeting November 3-7, 2008, where this topic might be discussed under the limitations and exceptions agenda. 

The purpose of this Treaty is to ensure full and complete access for persons with visual and reading disabilities to avenues for participation in society. This will be achieved by providing for a harmonization of the minimum flexibilities in copyright laws of different countries. It is envisaged that this Treaty will help to create a global platform for the publication and international distribution of books in accessible formats and will help to utilize the “creative, artistic and intellectual potential” of these persons, “not only for their own benefit, but also for the enrichment of society” (Article 1).

The Treaty focuses mainly on measures required to publish and distribute works in formats that are accessible for persons who are blind, have low vision, or have other disabilities in reading text which might prevent their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. The Treaty also seeks to do away with the barriers to exporting and importing copyright works published in accessible formats.

Article 4 dispenses with the necessity of obtaining permission from the copyright holders in order to convert their work into accessible formats.  It provides for limitations and exceptions under copyright at two levels.
(a) by providing for publication and distribution of copyrighted material by non profit organizations upon fulfilment of four conditions--that the work has been lawfully obtained, it will be converted into an accessible format and only changes required to make the work accessible will be made, the work will be distributed only to visually/reading disabled persons, and the publication and distribution will be on a non-profit basis.
(b) by laying down the conditions under which a for profit organization may publish and distribute copyrighted work in accessible formats. 

Further, Article 6 gives permission for circumvension of technological protection measures; such circumvension may be required to make the work accessible. Article 7 nullifies all contracts which expressly exclude the exceptions and limitations set out under Article 4. Article 8 permits export and import of copyrighted material which has fulfilled the conditions of Article 4 without obtaining permission from copyright holders.

Technology advancement has liberated visually disabled persons from complete reliance on available audio material as a source of information. The ease, efficacy and cost effectiveness of transmitting, storing and reading digital books has made it possible for visually and print disabled persons to access information globally. However, according to the WBU, even in high income countries barely five percent of all published books are available in accessible formats. In developing countries, the situation is even worse. The lack of awareness and resources coupled with insensitive and backward copyright legislation which prevents import of content in accessible and globally available formats result in very scanty and restricted access to information and communication for visually and print disabled persons living in these countries. The Treaty aims to work around such legislation to improve the conditions for enabling access.

If you wish to add your name to the list of supporters or otherwise write in with suggestions, etc, please send email to [email protected]. (Mobile: 9845868078)


Download a letter endorsing the treaty:

MS Word (.doc)

OpenOffice (.odt)

Adobe Acrobat Reader (.pdf)

Media coverage

Deccan Herald (November 3, 2008):

Visually impaired seek access to print materials