The Publishers Association (PA) has welcomed a new copyright treaty aimed at improving blind people's access to books, provided it does not pose a threat to commercial markets.
The World Intellectual Property Organisations (WIPO) treaty has been described by international development organisation Sightsavers as “history-making", as it guarantees access to copyrighted works for the visually impaired.
The pact will make sharing accessible versions of Braille, large print and audio books across national boundaries legal for the first time. It was previously prevented by copyright based on national jurisdiction.
Richard Mollet, c.e.o of the PA, said: "The PA welcomes the conclusion of a draft treaty text to facilitate access to published works by visually impaired persons. The PA, in association with the International Publishers Association, has always supported the conclusion of such a treaty, provided it included established principles of copyright law such as the three-step test and did not pose a threat to already existing commercial markets."
The treaty will also allow visually impaired readers to “circumnavigate" the Technical Protection Measures (TPMs) "padlocks" placed on these books by publishers, according to Sightsavers. Currently, only 5%-7% of all published works in developed countries are made accessible in relatively quick time and less than 1% in developing countries, the organisation said, with the treaty looking set to “dramatically” improve this.
The treaty agreement was reached at a Diplomatic Conference in Marrakesh yesterday (26th June) after a campaign lasting more than six years.
Caroline Harper, chief executive of Sightsavers, hailed WIPO for making a decision “which benefits the public interest rather than solely the rights-holder”.
She said: “This history-making treaty ends the book famine for millions of blind and visually impaired people, providing access to publications which have previously been locked away by legal constrictions. WIPO has taken a commendable approach in passing a treaty which benefits the public interest rather than solely the rights-holder, dramatically increasing the amount of literature available to visually impaired people, which is currently as low as 1% in developing countries."
She added: “As something that Sightsavers has been advocating for globally for more than six years, this announcement is a truly celebratory moment for us, our partners and the 285 million people who are visually impaired around the world.”
The PA said that it constantly works to ensure accessibility. Mollet said: "The PA, in liaison with the UK Government and our international counterparts, now needs to consider the treaty’s implementation. To that end, we hope that the RNIB and WBU will join us in the Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources (TIGAR) programme which is aiming towards this.
"The PA holds regular meetings with the RNIB about accessibility. The benefits of this close collaboration are evident in RNIB-commissioned research, published in 2012, which shows that 76% of the top 1000 books in 2011 are available in accessible formats. The latest available figures (Q4 2012) show that all of the Top 50 books are available in accessible formats."
Before the final discussion, WIPO director general Francis Gurry said negotiators had the task of: “On the one hand designing a workable system that will ensure that accessible formats can be produced and exchanged across borders around the world in a simple and easy manner and, on the other hand, providing assurances to authors and publishers that that system will not expose their assets to misuse in parallel markets that are not intended to serve the visually impaired and the print disabled.”
Music legend Stevie Wonder has also supported the treaty. Last week he appealed to WIPO’s negotiators to finalise their discussions to finalise the treaty this week. “Let’s get this “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (and) I’m Yours,” he said in a video statement to negotiators. “Do this and I will come to Marrakesh and we will celebrate together.”
He added: “We stand at the cusp of a momentous time in history. All of you—great minds representing governments around the world—have the opportunity to right a wrong. You are in the final sprint of a marathon that has spanned many years, but time is short and there is still much more work to be done to complete this historic treaty.”
The treaty is expected to be formally adopted in the plenary session at the WIPO Diplomatic Conference later today (27th June).