Kicking and screaming at WIPO: Dragging the EU and the US to the negotiating table

EU and US have shown insensitivity to the right to read of the millions of blind persons. They also have also lacked transparency and democratic legitimacy in their attempts to slow and weaken progress towand an effective Treaty for the Visually Impaired at WIPO.


Great tension has been created by the EU and the US last week at WIPO in Geneva to defend what they consider a negative precedent of “copyright reform”. No holds have been barred to prevent the Treaty for the Visually Impaired from moving clearly forward at this Geneva meeting of WIPO. Political blackmail, personal insults and public humiliation have regrettably been present at WIPO this week on the part of US representatives. The victims of this unacceptable bullying campaign have mainly been representatives of African countries.

The conclusions of SCCR24 at WIPO with regards to the Treaty of the Visually Impaired is a sad compromise between the traditional inoperancy of WIPO and the  moral urgency to solve a problem that affects millions of visually impaired persons around the world, especially in the Global South. Most of the key textual issues remain open but a tentative calendar has been adopted that could result in a definitive treaty signing conference in 2013.  On the part of the EU and US it should be noted that that they have lacked sufficient commitment to basic human rights and have consistently favoured narrow business concerns over the general public interest.

What was clearly attainable last week at WIPO has now become a series of conditional and ambiguous promises. After years of discussion we left Geneva without a clear mandate to the General Assembly for WIPO to convene a Diplomatic Conference, without a final negotiating text for that conference, without the definition of the instrument to be used (Treaty or recommendation)and a highly divided WIPO along North-South lines. We also have on the table a series of rightholders oriented amendments presented by the EU and US that would effectively empty out from any future Treaty any content that would be socially and culturally useful for millions of visually impaired persons, possibly converting an global legal instrument for blind persons into an “industry protection Treaty”. If the EU and US get their way, instead of a Treaty establishing a clear exception to copyright it will be the vanguard of copyright counter-reform – with blind persons’ book famine simply becoming “regrettable collateral damage” of the publishing industry´s ideological lobbying drones. Fortunately, this is not the opinon of most countries nor that of global civil society.

Again we must ask the US and the EU a few questions: Why are the simple and effective exceptions for visually impaired already existing in US and in many EU member states not good enough for the rest of the world? Why the double standard? Why do they demand binding treaties and laws for IPR enforcement but when it comes to human rights exceptions they only want recommendations and stakeholders agreements?

How can representatives of EU say they are against a Treaty when a vast majority of the European Parliament have voted to support it? While it´s true that the EU Council has not yet given a mandate to negotiate a Treaty, never has the EU or any of its institutions ever taken a position against a Treaty.

Why has the EU only made amendments to the WIPO text to increase the protection of rightsholders and has not proposed any initiatives to facilitate easy access to books on the part of visually impaired persons?


It might be that under great pressure from the European Parliament now the EU has adopted the strategy of “poisoned pills”. The latest illegitimate strategy of the EC´s Internal Market copyright team led by Maria Martín Prat is “If you can´t prevent a Treaty, make it useless and empty of value by tortuous industry amendments”.


Despite all the noise, the momentum is on our side. The EU and the US will be dragged kicking and screaming to a diplomatic conference where a treaty will eventually be signed sometime next year. What is really regrettable is that such enormous civil society energy must be poured into an issue that should be an obvious, moral imperative to all.

2 comments for “Kicking and screaming at WIPO: Dragging the EU and the US to the negotiating table

  1. Steve Suppan
    July 31, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    This is a great blog and should form the basis for an op ed in the New York Times or Financial Times. Given the tactics used, the names of the negotiators should be included in the op-ed, without associating them with any particular tactic for which there is documentation. The blog should be read into the record of the EU Parliament and the U.S. Congress, so that our legislators and their constituents know what the missions in Geneva are doing.

  2. August 3, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Why Mr. Hammerstein do you continue to reference ‘persons who are blind or visually impaired’ when — under the current definition for Beneficiary Persons — those who are genuinely visually impaired would represent but a small component of those eligible for VIP copyright waiver. Dan Pescod of the RNIB recently wrote to the UK IPO Consultation of “the estimated one in eight of us who cannot read standard print due to sight problems, dyslexia, or a disability which makes it difficult for us to hold a book or turn a page.”

    So really when you say ‘millions of blind persons’ you are really talking about multiple hundreds of millions and that just about any organization who has ever made an accessible version of copyrighted material should now have unfettered reign to do so without any accountability.

    In the US, UK, and other countries that have copyright waivers for disability there is reasonable expectation that, if anyone engages in a major infringement of copyright, they would be in some way held accountable — just take a look a at Jim Fruchterman’s 7-point security measures for and see how that compares to your video statement to KEI that such measures would be unreasonable in countries that do not have NGOs dedicated primarily to disability literacy.

    Finally — observing the WIPO SCCR 24 negotiations from 6 time zones away — the big get-out-jail card for the Treaty opponents is the Article I. The fact that no treaty opponent objected to the language may mean they are waiting for the more opportune time … and you gave it to them on a silver platter.

    … following the last time there was a Diplomatic Conference that failed it took more than 10 years to resurrect that Treaty proposal. So maybe that is the plan post SCCR24 in the schedule that will be proposed to the GA50 in October 2012 for Agenda Item 26.

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