Intellectual Property Watch, by Catherine Saez, and Infojustice.org (Marrakesh, Morocco, June 26, 2013) – The mood was one of celebration at the Marrakesh Palais des Congrès to greet the success of World Intellectual Property Organization negotiators in their attempt to produce a draft treaty text showing consensus. After a difficult start to the week, delegates achieved success and the corridors of the conference centre echoed with laughter and congratulations. Tears of joy were shed as most celebrated this as an historic agreement.
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Visually impaired people and civil society supporting them were ecstatic, some said overwhelmed. The final informal consolidation draft text [pdf] was issued late at night, and all articles were adopted by a full room of delegates. The text is now off to the drafting committee which will ensure that all different language versions are consistent and compatible.
WIPO members are meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, from 17-28 June to finalise a treaty on limitations and exceptions to copyright for blind and visually impaired persons, allowing them better cross-border access to books.
For the visually impaired community, this is seen as nothing short of a miracle. After 10 days of hard negotiations, Dan Pescod, who leads the World Blind Union’s European campaign for the treaty, confessing exhaustion, told Intellectual Property Watch before the text was available “part of me wants to see the text in front of me and part of me feels this is an historic day many years in the making.”
Maryanne Diamond, immediate past president of the World Blind Union, told Intellectual Property Watch that all issues that mattered for blind people had been addressed. “We are still in shock,” she said, adding “this is the beginning of changing the world for blind people.”
Pablo Lecuona from the Latin American Blind Union said that for the past five years the blind community had been pushing for recognition of the problem of access to books for visually impaired people. “Now we have a treaty,” he told Intellectual Property Watch, but said they have further work, which is the ratification and the implementation of this treaty so that it is an effective tool so that blind people can access more books.
“I am overwhelmed. It was so hard and it should not have been so hard,” said Jamie Love, a strong supporter of the treaty. “It took five years of hard work when it could have been much quicker but people really changed their mind when they met blind people. You could see a change in attitude in delegates,” he said.
“The European Union and the United States delegates found a way to push back on industry lobbying,” he told Intellectual Property Watch, and even within industry, he added, there was a change of attitude, with some lobbyists pushing back hardliners.
Jim Fruchterman, the head of Benetech, which runs Bookshare, a digital platform providing special format books for visually impaired people, said, “We are extremely excited about the treaty. We have the technology and we have the content, now we have a legal regime to make it possible for every person with print disabilities on the planet to get access to the books they need for education, employment, and social inclusion.”
Delegates Displaying Glee
The level of enthusiasm was the same among delegates, whether from developed, developing or least-developed countries.
Justin Hughes, a US delegate, told Intellectual Property Watch, “It was a pleasure to work with Brazil, and the European Union, and Mexico in the early days to try to get the first collaborative text together. Obviously it feels wonderful to see that text come to fruition.”
Another representative of Group B developed countries said that the text was balanced, as a European Union delegate said, “Everybody is very happy, very satisfied.” A delegate of the African Group said, “It is a miracle.”
In a rare occurrence, all delegations, as well as civil society, celebrated in unison a treaty characterised as serving human rights.
The enthusiasm was not as marked on the side of publishers. A source from the publishing industry told Intellectual Property Watch that the text was “pretty balanced” and that “there was something in it for everyone.” Visibly the text is not to their full satisfaction, but most interviewed said they were happy for visually impaired people.
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry told observers that the treaty had been driven by nongovernmental 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.”
“It is a great thing for WIPO, for intellectual property, for the multilateral system, but above all, for visually impaired persons,” Gurry said. He was greeted by sustained applause. Participants widely praised the work of the WIPO secretariat.
After a difficult beginning of the week when progress was very limited on issues on which delegations stood firm, relief first came last Saturday when agreement was reached on the three-step test and the so-called Berne gap (IPW, WIPO, 24 June 2013).
Agreement on Tough Issues
Since then, there was mounting pressure to find agreement and the visually impaired representatives grew worried about the nature of the treaty. Among the issues remaining to be resolved as recently as yesterday were commercial availability, right of distribution to individuals, and right of translation.
The issue of commercial availability, longstanding and pugnacious, was solved yesterday. Visually impaired people and developing countries wanted it out of the treaty, publishers and developed countries wanted it in. Finally, commercial availability still stands under Article 4 (National Law Limitations and Exceptions on Accessible Format Copies), but has disappeared from Article 5 (cross-border exchange of accessible format copies).
The issue of the right of distribution to individuals was settled after “some additional safeguards and some additional information sharing mechanisms” were added to the text, according to Hughes.
The text will come back to plenary to be reviewed and adopted, after having been through the drafting committee, on Thursday morning, said the WIPO secretariat, and countries will give their comments on the treaty at this time.