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Historic treaty brings books to blind people

28 June 2013

Historic treaty brings books to blind people

The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB) is delighted that negotiators at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have finalised terms on a copyright treaty to expand book access for the people who are blind or have low vision.

The treaty makes it legal to convert copyrighted material to formats such as Braille books, audio recordings or large-print books without having to gain prior permission from copyright holders in every instance, and to share these with agencies in other countries - something which has been either difficult or impossible up to now because of international copyright restrictions.

“The treaty will end the outrageous situation whereby, even when all the accessible format agencies put together can't hope to keep up with demand, they were being forced to duplicate the production of works because they were not allowed to share each other's materials. So, RNZFB produced Harry Potter books, so did Britain’s Royal National Institute of the Blind and many other organisations. Meanwhile, other books were not being produced because we were all producing the same Harry Potter book!” says Neil Jarvis, Executive Director of Strategic Relations – Accessibility.

There was initial opposition to the treaty from organisations such as the Motion Picture Association of America. The two factions disputed whether the treaty could affect other types of copyrighted material, including movies or videos.

The issues were settled after “some additional safeguards and some additional information sharing mechanisms” were added to the treaty, according to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.

Gurry told observers that the treaty had been driven by non-governmental organisations and it was not only a treaty, but a good treaty. He extended “his profound thanks” for what he describes as “a truly historic result.”

RNZFB’s Neil Jarvis agrees. He believes that this treaty will go a long way to ending the book famine which blind, low vision and other print disabled people experience because they are currently not able to access books and other publications in the format of their choice, even when they exist in other countries.

“Access to information is at the core of being able to live in today's society. This treaty will enable people who cannot read standard print to have a better opportunity of receiving the information they need, in the format they need and when they need it. That makes them more economically active and more able to contribute to civic society. There's still a long way to go before the practical benefits of this work their way through, but getting agreement for a treaty was the first essential step on that road.

This is a great day for blind, low vision and print disabled people.”

Full text of the WIPO treaty can be found here: http://t.co/IbQqTdFWUk


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