Signed, Sealed and Delivered: WIPO Treaty for the Blind Sets Historic Precedent for Accessibility to Published Material

This article is a reprint of a story published at G3ict.

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled has officially been approved. A jubilant Abigail Rekas writes in from Marrakesh about this historic precedent that will now allow greater access to published material for persons with print disabilities.

The feeling here in Marrakesh is one of joyous relief. The tension and frustration over the last week at the WIPO Diplomatic Conference to Conclude a Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities have melted in the hot Moroccan sun. Whether it was the heat or the words of Stevie Wonder, requesting that the delegates ‘Sign, Seal and Deliver’ a treaty to benefit blind and print disabled persons, delegates on both sides of the issue found flexibility and were able to compromise and deliver a consolidated draft text that was adopted by the Conference on June 27, 2013. It will be open for signature on June 28, 2013.

History has been made. This is the first international intellectual property treaty on user rights. Never before have exceptions and limitations to enable access been mandated. This treaty is a blending of Human Rights and Intellectual Property. It implements, for the very first time, the principle laid out in theInternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Article 15(a) and 15(b), that everyone has a right to access cultural materials. It is a first step to realizing United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 30 that intellectual property regimes should not be an unreasonable barrier to access to cultural materials.

Music icon Stevie Wonder urges UN forum to sign, seal, deliver treaty for visually impaired

Image: WIPO Director General Francis Gurry (left) and music legend Stevie Wonder in 2010. Photo: WIPO/Emmanuel Berrod

There were four concepts that almost prevented this treaty from coming into existence. The 3-Step Test, Commercial Availability, Digital Rights Management/Technical Protection Measures, and Translation were extremely tough knots to untangle. Thursday, June 27 these issues seemed almost insurmountable, and emotions were running high.

Fortunately the pressure to conclude a treaty forced flexibility from delegations and the facilitator appointed to address these issues was able to find compromise between the various positions. An excellent discussion of the resolution of these issues can be found at the webpage:http://infojustice.org/archives/30032.

This treaty is the culmination of the work of many passionate advocates, particularly of the World Blind Union, the Royal National Institute of the Blind andKnowledge Ecology International. They have been the face of the campaign for this treaty, and have spent years working with the delegations of various countries to create a text that actually enabled access to books rather than just paying lip service to the idea.

The Beijing Momentum coupled with what the representative of Group B called the Marrakesh Spirit (that of collaboration and cooperative attitude) and facilitated by the WIPO Secretariat has lead to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. It has not been an easy road. The Representative of the Government of Morocco commented that this treaty is the first of a new generation of treaties and collective efforts.

The Miracle in Marrakesh was greeted with a standing ovation. Stevie Wonder will perform. This treaty will change the lives of the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disabled persons around the world as it is implemented. The focus must now shift to implementation of this treaty and the active sharing of books across borders.

Source: G3ict

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