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Copyright saga continued

Thu, 13 Dec 2012

The latest instalment of the saga concerning an international treaty to provide a copyright exception for print disabled people was played out at the 25th session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights from 19 to 23 November. As WIPO did not issue a press release to trumpet its success one becomes concerned about what has actually happened. However, it did produce a short update headed “Negotiators advance towards an international treaty for the visually impaired.” According to this update, “Member States made significant progress on the substantive provisions of a draft treaty/legal instrument… After fruitful negotiations, agreement was reached on several essential elements of the instrument, including key definitions for the works covered by the text and the ‘authorized entities’ that would provide accessible versions of published works to persons with visual impairment/print disabilities.”

An Extraordinary Session of the WIPO General Assembly is to be held on the 17 and 18 of December to evaluate the draft text and decide whether to convene a diplomatic conference in 2013 to adopt “a legal instrument/treaty.” The final decision will be taken by the General Assembly and plans are in place for a Preparatory Committee to finalize the rules, procedures and various texts.

The committee also addressed exceptions for libraries and archives and for education and research and people with other disabilities. It decided to continue work on these topics and will consider holding an inter-sessional meeting in the second half of 2013 to prepare an exception for libraries and archives following its 26th session to be held in July 2013.

The official “Conclusions” document for the latest session confirms all of this and adds that “Should the General Assembly decide not to convene a diplomatic conference in 2013, the SCCR recommends that it be directed by the General Assembly to continue negotiations on the text and to reallocate its time in the next SCCR to give priority to that work.”

In other words, they have not reached agreement on a treaty and it may not be a treaty in any case but some other “legal instrument.” So where do things really stand and how did they get to the current situation? As usual, I have relied on the update reports produced by Knowledge Ecology International and IP-Watch. The following is a summary of how the session progressed.

How the 25th session proceeded

  • IP-Watch reported that the session started with the WIPO Director General, Francis Gurry, pleading with the delegates “to rise sufficiently above your national positions to see the common good that can be achieved for the international community through the conclusion of a new treaty in this area to see the improvement that you are able to actually deliver for the visually impaired and print disabled.”
  • This was followed by even more good news as KEI reported that the EU announced that it had a mandate to negotiate a binding treaty for print disabled people. “Our goal is clear; we want to ensure that visually impaired and print disabled persons anywhere in the world have the same access to books than any other person.” This has to be a triumph for the European Blind Union’s dogged campaigning in the European Parliament, Commission and elsewhere.
  • Unfortunately, the next day KEI reported on the US stance which was making it more isolated in its opposition to a treaty by describing the agreement as an “instrument/treaty.”
  • By 21 November, KEI is reporting that the US delegation is telling blind organizations that it will kill a treaty if it covers audiovisual works including those for distance learning.
  • The next day KEI reports that the committee has finished work on the definition of a work. Audiovisual works are out but e-books and audio books are included.
  • On 23 November, the last day of the session, KEI reports that the committee seems to have concluded work on the text which is 25 pages long but there are still many differences to be resolved. The idea seems to be to revise it at the informal meetings before the Extraordinary General Assembly on 17 and 18 December. The US is completely isolated on the nature of the instrument.
  • On 24 November, KEI responds to questions it has received about Canada’s position. Canada has belatedly announced that it supports a treaty but recent changes to Canadian copyright law are not as generous as might be expected, especially on the export of accessible works.
  • On 24 November, IP-Watch publishes its own conclusions on the meeting. Country delegates and visually impaired representatives have hailed the progress but much more needs to be done to reach a final agreement on the outstanding issues. The report summarises the views of the different groups and the outstanding issues with the working draft text.
  • On 26 November the European Blind Union issues its own press release which is neatly summarised by its heading, “Talks in the balance: EU backs treaty leaving USA isolated.”
Author: David Owen for Share the Vision