Baltimore, Maryland (December 17, 2012): The National Federation of the Blind applauds today’s announcement from the United States government supporting a legally binding international instrument which will allow many more books to be converted into accessible formats used by the blind and allow those accessible copies to be shared across international borders. The U.S. officially voiced its support earlier today at the Extraordinary General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) taking place in Geneva, Switzerland. The U.S. also indicated its support for a diplomatic conference in June, 2013, which would have the aim of finalizing work on the international instrument.
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “We have been calling upon the U.S. government and governments throughout the world to support this treaty proposal, which has been before WIPO since 2009. In developed nations, only up to seven percent of published works are available to the blind in accessible formats such as Braille, audio, and electronic versions and less than one percent of published works are available in the developing world. This has created a book famine for the blind across the globe.”
“We appreciate the leadership exercised by the U.S. delegation to WIPO to keep this treaty proposal moving forward, and we expect the U.S. delegation to continue exercising such leadership to ensure that, at the Diplomatic Conference in June of 2013, the world will adopt and finalize a legally binding international instrument that is workable and achieves the overarching purpose of putting more books and information into the hands of the blind,” said Scott LaBarre, one of the National Federation of the Blind’s official delegates to WIPO.
“Resolution of several important issues still lies ahead. Member states of WIPO have not achieved consensus on key language in the proposed instrument with respect to provisions addressing the needs of the blind while still protecting the intellectual property of publishers.”
“Such differences remain a real threat to adoption of this desperately needed international agreement,” added Dr. Frederic K. Schroeder, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and also an official Federation delegate to WIPO.
Approximately one-third of the world’s nations, including the U.S., have created exceptions and limitations in their copyright laws to allow for the reproduction of published works in accessible formats without first requiring the time-consuming and expensive step of acquiring the permission of the publisher for such reproduction. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the world’s countries have no such exceptions or limitations allowing for the production of accessible copies. Additionally, cross-border sharing of accessible copies is not permitted under international law. If adopted, the treaty proposal under the sponsorship of the World Blind Union, which was originally tabled and is now before the WIPO General Assembly, would harmonize copyright exceptions and limitations throughout the world, allowing for the conversion of published works into accessible formats used by the blind and permitting the sharing of accessible copies of works across international borders.
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