"An on-line forum to promote an exchange of ideas and to build consensus on international measures to improve access to copyright-protected works in formats suitable for visually impaired persons and others with print disabilities (VIPs) was launched by WIPO this week. The Forum, which will remain open at least until June 20, 2010, is designed to stimulate debate, enhance understanding, and broaden awareness of the question.
While sighted individuals enjoy unprecedented access [as contrasted with precedented access?] to copyright-protected content, in some contexts, social, economic, technological and legal factors, including the operation of copyright protection systems, can combine to seriously impede access to such works by the blind or other reading impaired persons. Widespread use of digital technologies, in particular, has prompted reconsideration of the question of how to maintain a balance between the protection available to copyright owners, and the needs of specific user groups, such as reading impaired persons.
More than 314 million blind or visually impaired people around the world stand to benefit from a more flexible copyright regime adapted to current technological realities. Individuals with reading impairment often need to convert information into Braille, large print, audio, electronic and other formats using assistive technologies. Only a very small percentage of published books around the world are available in formats accessible to the reading impaired. This seriously compromises the educational and employment opportunities of reading impaired individuals in all countries, particularly developing countries.
In May 2009, Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay submitted to WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), a draft treaty proposal, prepared by the World Blind Union (WBU), to spearhead international discussions on establishing a multilateral legal framework on limitations and exceptions to international copyright law for the benefit of VIPs to address the needs of VIPs and other people with reading disabilities.
This proposal, together with other possible proposals and contributions from SCCR members will be discussed during the upcoming open-ended consultations from May 26 to 28, 2010. The outcome of those consultations will be submitted for the consideration at the next session of the SCCR in Geneva from June 21 to 24".
This weblog wonders whether the Forum will throw any new light on the problems of visually impaired persons, which have been known to us since before the dawn of literacy and which often appear to be of peripheral significance when contrasted with other, less pervasive, issues. What is wanted now is not so much an increased awareness of the problems as an increased awareness of the need to address those problems in a manner which is both practical and fair.