Consumers International at WIPO

The highlight of the 18th meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has been the proposal today by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay of a WIPO Treaty for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons that was drafted by the World Blind Union and presented for discussion at the previous SCCR meeting last November.

CI strongly supports this proposal - not simply because it promotes the right of blind, visually impaired and reading disabled persons to read (though that is reason enough), but also because it would be the first international instrument to set new minimum limitations and exceptions to copyright law, thus introducing a new note of balance into international IP norm-setting that has been sorely lacking until now.

The response of the country delegations to the treaty proposal has fallen into three main camps:

  • the African group which welcomes the treaty but would prefer a broader instrument setting other minimum copyright limitations and exceptions in areas such as education, use by libraries and archives, and innovative services;
  • the so-called "Group B" of developed nations which claim that more study and evaluation is needed before adopting a treaty on copyright exceptions for the blind; and
  • the developing and transition economies from outside the African group, and particularly those from Latin America who strongly support the treaty.

From civil society and the private sector, opinion is similarly divided, predictably between public interest groups such as CI who strongly support the treaty proposal, and representatives of rights holders who oppose it on the grounds that they believe countries should be allowed to address the issue on a national level. During CI's intervention in the afternoon session, this last point was addressed in the following terms:

It is true that there are about 60 countries that already have good copyright exceptions for the blind (though even these do not allow for cross-border transfers of adapted copyright works, as the treaty would).  However, many other countries do not and perhaps never will have adequate exceptions unless international norms are set.
CI research has found that developing countries – whose consumers are amongst those most adversely affected by inflexible copyright laws – tend not to be proactive in the adoption of limitations and exceptions in national law. This is why it is insufficient to rely on national law for the protection of consumer interests in access to knowledge.
Even more fundamentally, it is unfair and unbalanced for rights holders to be privileged to have minimum standards of copyright protection upheld in international law, where the public is denied that same level of protection for its interests in the copyright system, through minimum limitations and exceptions.

The mandate of the SCCR to progress this treaty proposal will be formalised in a report that the delegates will agree on Friday. Hopefully, this will pave the way for negotiations on the text of the treaty to begin in earnest at the next meeting of the SCCR in November. Following agreement there, it can be introduced to WIPO's general assembly for adoption as an international instrument.

CI's written submission to the SCCR meeting (which is not quite in the same terms as the oral intervention excerpted above) is made available for download below.

CI statement to 18th meeting of WIPO SCCR125.78 KB

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