The UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is debating a treaty that creates exceptions to copyright low for the purposes of making information equally available to the blind, reading impaired, and other persons for whom a particular work is currently inaccessible. The language of the treaty makes it clear that the primary intended recipients of this treaty’s effects would be the large number of disabled persons living in the poorest countries of the world.
In a move that is sadly unsurprising, the US, EU, Canada, and a large number of other developed countries are fighting this treaty. Their rationals are fairly boilerplate, and pretty much empty. The US response, which was made on Tuesday, more or less boils down to “we talked to some people, and we already have some laws.” No real explanation as to why they oppose the treaty at all. I hate doubletalk.
The text of the treaty is pretty clear, and the rights that would be granted are not extreme. It sets up provisions for third parties to create works in accessible formats without the copyright holder’s express permission. That in itself would be pretty broad, and not something I would support. However, the treaty goes on to set out a large number of restrictions, provisions, and guidelines that make the exact circumstances under which it would be applicable very clear. For one, the distributing party has to already have a license to the work. So, you have to buy it in the first place before the treaty comes into effect. Any commercial use has to include remuneration to the rights holders. Distribution is only allowed to disabled persons as defined by treaty, etc. I suggest reading the document. It’s not long, the legalize isn’t bad, and it’s pretty sane.
If you think that allowing access to works that would currently be unavailable to disabled persons is a good idea, be sure that you are heard. Blog about it, contact your government representatives, the Obama administration, and others.
Another fact that should surprise no one is that I first heard of this from Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.