Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology International was tracking the discussions live, and blogged for Huffington Post, detailing the contents of the treaty:
“The treaty seeks to allow the cross-border import and export of digital copies of books and other copyrighted works in formats that are accessible to persons who are blind, visually impaired, dyslexic or have other reading disabilities, using special devices that present text as refreshable braille, computer generated text to speech, or large type. These works, which are expensive to make, are typically created under national exceptions to copyright law that are specifically written to benefit persons with disabilities.”
The impetus for such a treaty comes lies in the limited number of accessible works for such disabled persons, compared to the tomes available to “sighted” persons. This is compounded by the limited access to texts in non-English languages. The opposition from the US and others is purportedly because of internal lobbying from publishers whose agenda is to expand rights for copyright owners.
However, this debate is not particularly new, and indeed has its origins in a 1982 WIPO and UNESCO Working Group on Access by the Visually and Auditory Handicapped to Material Reproducing Works Produced by Copyright. As Jamie Love tells us in the KEI blog, “the debate in 1982 was similar in many respects to the debate today, with attention to issues such as remuneration or non-remunerative exceptions, whether or not exceptions should be avoided in favor of private negotiations with copyright owners, and how to prevent the accessible works being used by members of the general public.” The parties were near identical on either side of the table. The main difference lay in the present focus on the cross-border transport of works, which was absent in 1982.
Although India does not seem to have been an active participant on this occasion, the timing of this discussion is nevertheless appropriate, for it coincides with the launch of www.readable.in – the world’s largest user-generated library of books accessible by the visually-impaired. (There’s a screen-grab on the left). The web-resource is a joint initiative of the Centre for Internet and Society and Inclusive Planet, whom you can read more about here. It may be an unrelated link in the sense that the digital material presently available is all out of copyright, and the website has a clear take-down policy here. But it doesn’t deny the fact that this is an amazing and much-needed initiative, and promises a lot. If mainstream publishers are enterprising enough, they would actually consider sponsoring uploads. Some of you may find that a tad too fanciful.
I know I sound really old when I say this, but I still remember the days when, as college volunteers, students spent time at neighbourhood schools for the visually impaired or at university, to read out or even record (on analog tapes) entire books (fiction/reference) for students to access. I’m sure this student volunteer support system won’t die out immediately in some parts of the world, but it’s great to see digital technology and inclusiveness make a rare appearance on the same page.