Treaty for the Blind in Jeopardy, Copyright Zealots to Blame
Treaty for the Blind in Jeopardy, Copyright Zealots to Blame
Treaty for the Blind in Jeopardy, Copyright Zealots to Blame

    Get Involved Today

    In a few weeks, the nations of
    the world will gather in Morocco to finalize a treaty that could help the millions
    of blind and visually impaired have affordable access to books, but lobbyists
    from Hollywood and the publishing industry are making a last minute push to
    fatally weaken the Treaty – despite getting all their previous demands.

    In a few weeks, the 186 governments that are members of the
    World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) will gather in Morocco with the
    goal of crafting a Treaty For The Blind.  The agreement would facilitate global production and lending
    of audio books, Braille translations, and otherwise enable the visually
    impaired and those with certain learning disabilities to have affordable access
    to books. 

    This will most benefit the millions of blind people in the developing
    world who live in poverty, by adopting many of the rights to translate works into
    braille or other forms accessible to the visually impaired that are already law
    in the United States.

    But last minute lobbying by Hollywood and publishing interests
    in the U.S. and Europe have threatened to derail the Treaty for the Blind at the last minute.

    We are asking everyone to please sign
    this We The People Petition telling the Obama
    Administration to side with the blind, not Hollywood.

    Click Here To Sign the Petition

    (To add insult to injury, blind
    people can’t access
    this White House petition because the audio version of
    the captcha – the authentication code – is, well, inaudible. Could we make this more infuriating for the visually impaired community? See below!)

    Why Is This at WIPO?
    And Why Would Anyone Oppose It?

    Why is this a matter for the World Intellectual Property
    Organization (WIPO)? Because while the United States has specific exceptions to copyright to
    facilitate the production of books for the blind, as well as laws facilitating access to video and online content
    for the blind, many other countries do not.

    Copyright laws in many countries around the world prevent
    the visually impaired and those with reading disabilities from having access to
    books or other kinds of content. 

    Trying to negotiate licenses to create audio versions of
    works for the blind is difficult too, providing for special equipment with
    digital rights management (DRM) demanded by publishers for audio ebooks is
    complicated and expensive, and rightsholders typically want more money than many
    in the developing world can afford.

    As advocates for the blind keep pointing out, we have had
    these exceptions in copyright lawsince
    1996 without destroying the multi-bajillion dollar movie and publishing

    Nevertheless, industry trade associations such as the Motion
    Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of
    America (RIAA), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have fought the Treaty For the Blind tooth and nail since
    negotiations began at WIPO in earnest in 2009

    Despite Getting Movies Excluded
    From The Treaty, MPAA Leads A Last Minute Lobbying Effort To Weaken It Further.

    According to Jamie
     at Knowledge Ecology International,
    who has worked tirelessly on this Treaty for years, the MPAA promised in 2012
    to support the treaty if the U.S. would:

    (a) prevent the Treaty from being extended to the closed captioning
    and other access technologies for the deaf;

    (b) remove all reference in the Treaty to audiovisual works.
    (See Jamie’s article describing this here and KEI’s Treaty for the Blind resource page here.)

    The United States complied and did what MPAA demanded.

    But, in true Evil Villain form from one of its own movies, MPAA
    has reneged on the bargain. MPAA Chairman Chris
     has, according to Love, personally led a furious last minute
    lobbying campaign to insert even more outrageous terms in the Treaty.  

    Activist for the visually impaired and advocate for the
    Treaty Jim
     explains that the proposed changes would transform this
    from a Treaty for the blind into “a Treaty to Protect Rightsholders From the blind.”

    But Why? Why Would MPAA Do This
    When the Treaty Won’t Even Include Movies?

    According to MPAA CEO Chris Dodd, the MPAA and other trade
    associations opposing the current Treaty draft just want “balance.” But as with so many other Hollywood
    villains, Dodd’s self-justifying soliloquy reveals too much. Dodd alludes to the
    mythical conspiracy of piracy lovers
    (in this case, a conspiracy of blind
    people) to “use this meaningful treaty as a vehicle to weaken copyright and
    ultimately undermine the global marketplace WIPO is charged with

    This horde of pirates-in-blind-sheep’s-clothing, Dodd maintains,
    “have advocated for the inclusion of certain provisions that would establish
    lower thresholds for copyright protection and weaken certain means used for
    protecting copyright works.”

    Dodd manages to add a tone of injury and betrayal that this
    is all taking place at WIPO, which Dodd tells us, is supposed to be about strengthening copyright laws — not recognizing even
    limitations and exceptions to copyright
    to help the blind!

    Let’s set aside the fact that this sounds like “How dare you
    defy me, you fools! You give me no choice but to destroy you!” Instead, let us translate
    what Dodd actually says. 

    For the MPAA, Exceptions and
    Limitations to Copyright — Even For The Blind — Are Not Balance, But Heresy
    That Must Be Stamped Out!

    The entire point of the Treaty for the Blind is to craft an exception to copyright
    similar to the one enshrined in U.S. law precisely because the maximalist
    copyright regimes MPAA and others have tried (with considerable success) to
    impose on the rest of the world make it practically impossible to make affordable
    books for the blind available in the developing world.

    But the MPAA and big media see even this limited exception
    as a ‘lower threshold for copyright.’ A Treaty acknowledging that such an
    exception and limitation to copyright is beneficial and serves the common good
    would, in Dodd’s words, “weaken copyright” and “ultimately undermine the global
    marketplace WIPO is charged with strengthening.”

    This current draft of the WIPO Treaty for the Blind would go
    further than mere abstract recognition.

    It declares that countries should universally recognize that
    the interest in making books available to the blind requires some modest
    limitation and exception to copyright. While U.S. law has long recognized this,
    and struck a balance between protecting the right of authors and publishers to
    get paid and the right of the visually impaired to have affordable access to
    book, many other countries do not.

    To even acknowledge that any balance between copyright and some
    other right would require copyright to yield, is such anathema to MPAA that
    they will fight it to the death.

    What We Can Do

    It ill behoves the United States, where a free people boast
    they live by a rule of law that gives its citizens an exemption to copyright as
    a matter of right not as a matter of grace, to support such a twisted vision.

    And as a free people, with the right and responsibility to “petition our government for redress of grievances,” it
    falls to us to take action when our government loses its moral compass and
    sides with Hollywood over the blind.

    The first step requires little effort, just the willingness
    to click a link and sign the We the People petition
    asking the U.S. to side with the blind rather than with Hollywood and support
    the Treaty for the Blind unencumbered by burdensome conditions  that render the treaty unusable..

    We have already made these
    available to ourselves. We as a Nation should stand for these values
    globally, securing the same rights for the blind globally that we recognize as
    fundamental here. 

    Sign the We The People Petition.

    Image by Flickr user Normann.