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A Treat for the Blind

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jul 11, 2013 06:02 AM
The WIPO treaty will provide copyright exceptions on books making them available to blind people in formats they can use.
A Treat for the Blind

Blind music legend Stevie Wonder is one of the most ardent supporters of the treaty (Reuters)


The article by Chitra Narayanan was published in Business World on June 26, 2013. Pranesh Prakash is quoted.


For millions of visually impaired people around the globe, it’s a landmark treaty that could open up the kingdom of books for them. After days of intense deliberations at Marrakesh in Morrocco, about 600 World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) negotiators, including delegates from India, reached a consensus on a treaty that will provide copyright exceptions on books making them available to blind people in formats they can use.

Wipo, a United Nations agency, is dedicated to the use of intellectual property as a means of stimulating innovation and creativity. The agency has 186 member states.

Sure, content is king. But for the visually impaired, the right platform for accessing content is what makes the difference. Thanks to audio books, a host of apps, and digital platforms such as Bookshare, which provides content in accessible formats, the technology is already there to bring the rich world of 'hardcovers' and 'paperbacks' alive for those who cannot see. What’s more, these books are compatible with all kinds of devices from mobile phones to tablets to PCs.

Now, at last, there is legal sanction as well to content that was not being made available in accessible formats by the copyrights holders. For the 15 million people who are blind in India, the treaty is expected to open education doors as well as provide entertainment needs. India has the world’s largest number of blind people.

Bangalore-based Centre for Internet Society, a policy research organisation, has been at the forefront of negotiations at WIPO to get the treaty through. Minutes after the session concluded, Pranesh Prakash, policy Director at CIS and his colleague Sunil Abraham were tweeting ecstatically about the “win”.

For five long years, this Wipo treaty has witnessed contentious discussions on issues such as including exports of copyrighted works, translations of copyrighted works and so on. According to Prakash, who responded over twitter, “On Exports we won, but re-exports which was earlier permitted has become much more difficult.”

There are also other grainy areas such as commercial availability of the books. According to a post on the Intellectual Property Watch website, soon after the agreement was reached, commercial availability still stands under Article 4 (National Law Limitations and Exceptions on Accessible Format Copies) but has disappeared from Article 5 (cross border exchange of accessible format copies).

Although blind music legend Stevie Wonder, one of the most ardent supporters of the treaty, must be crooning Signed, Sealed, Delivered... it’s early days yet. The draft of the treaty has to be ratified by governments before being adopted.

But for five long years, it has been a long hard battle between copyright owners and those fighting for human rights of the visually impaired. Finally, as one observer, put it: 'a rare victory is in sight for human rights'.

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