The informal open-ended consultation at the World Intellectual Property Organization on how to solve the “book famine” of the visually impaired and the print disabled ended today amidst the persistent state of negation on the part of the United States and the European Union. This meeting was organized in order to favour a possible agreement on the issue before the official WIPO meeting next month.
Instead of supporting a binding treaty supported by most countries of the South the US and the EU have proposed inviable, complicated “voluntary recommendations” that are of little or no use in solving this grave problem. The sponsors of the Treaty, such as Brazil and Equador, demolished point by point the voluntary “soft” proposal of the US for its legal incoherence with regards to the exhaustion of rights, its limited technical scope for audio versions and, above all, the lack of respect for the blind by not giving their problem the status of a legally binding international treaty.
There exists no rational economic reason why the wealthy countries are against establishing a few exceptions and limitations on copyright so that millions of blind persons could have access to much more reading material. In no way do they constitute a viable market for commercial products. Only a rabidly cold, fundamentalist, ideological perspective of the protection of intellectual property and the exaggerated lobbying power of publishers and other content-owners, such as the Motion Picture Association, can explain the US and EU rejection of World Blind Union´s proposal for a Treaty for the Visually Impaired.
Of course, at least in theory, all countries and stakeholders are enthusiastic about helping blind persons with their lack of access to books, but in practice they could care less. What really seems to matter more than the basic human rights of the large print disabled minority is not giving in one centimeter or or one inch on the principle of tougher and tougher copyright enforcement, even if it means turning a cold shoulder on some of the most marginated people on earth.
The US delegate Justin Hughes came into the meeting as a confident super-star with CDs, pamphlets and press-releases under his arm. His speech ended by bashing the supposed attempt of some groups and countries to use this Treaty “to undermine international copyright law.” But what he expected would be another great photo-op and press splash about helping the disability community ended very quickly. He left with his tail between his leg amidst harsh criticism from European, US, Indian and South African NGOs and the skepticism of countries like Mexico, India, Turkey and others.
The EU was surprisingly mute throughout the meeting. The European Commission was not present and the Spanish Presidency did not bring forth any clear proposals. Nevertheless, in response the parliamentary questions the European Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier has recently expressed its support for “soft solutions”, “voluntary recommendations” and “stakeholder agreements”, while asserting that a treaty would “take too long” and does not have political support. While some EU countries, such as Finland, UK or Spain, are not closed to the idea of a treat, a few big countries led by France are adamantly against any binding instrument. A number of sources confirm that the EU possesses a four page proposal for WIPO for a “voluntary recommendation” that is even more restrictive and limited than the weak US proposal. EU countries will meet on the 8th of June to decide a final common position.
At the next WIPO meeting from the 21st to the 25th of June the the proposed Treaty for the Visually Impaired will be considered.