Despite efforts by blind advocacy groups, the U.S. has sided against a World Intellectual Property Organization treaty agreement that would make books accessible to more blind and visually impaired individuals, as well as those with dyslexia or physical disabilities, throughout the world.
The Obama administration, the governments of Canada and the European Union, and several other countries have opposed this initiative, which was introduced by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay and supported by many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in Asia and Africa. Other supporters include the World Blind Union, the National Federation of the Blind, Bookshare and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, among others advocacy groups.
Proposal advocates want to expand a U.S. copyright exemption to allow books to be distributed in alternative formats — such as text-to-speech, Braille and large type — to blind and visually impaired individuals around the world. The treaty would have allow imported and exported digital books to be made in accessible formats without having to get constant permission from publishers. Americans with “qualifying” print disabilities are already able to get books in alternative formats as a result of the copyright exemption. To qualify, individuals must join a national registry and in some cases, apply for membership to book organizations.
It’s unclear why the U.S. is against extending its copyright exemption to people with disabilities globally. It’s likely that the decision was made after a round of heavy lobbying by groups representing the world’s major publishers. There is a “large group of publishers that oppose a ‘paradigm shift,’ where treaties would protect consumer interests, rather than expand rights for copyright owners,” writes Jim Love, director of nonprofit organization Knowledge Ecology International in the The Huffington Post.
Fortunately, the decision isn’t set in stone. Members of a World Intellectual Property Organization committee will meet in November to continue discussing the issue. Meanwhile blind individuals and advocacy groups are pressuring President Obama to reconsider the U.S. decision.
Read the Blind Access Journal’s letter to President Obama.