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Conference Examines Copyright-related Challenges Facing Reading-Impaired Community

Geneva, July 13, 2009

Representatives of WIPO member states, reading-impaired organizations, publishers, and a technology consortium met on Monday, July 13, 2009 to discuss how the intellectual property system can best meet the needs of visually impaired people by improving timely access to copyright-protected content.

The proliferation of digital technologies has added a new dimension to the question of how to maintain a balance between the protection available to right owners, and the needs of specific user groups, such as reading impaired persons. More than 160 million blind or visually impaired people around the world stand to benefit from a more flexible copyright regime adapted to the technological realities of the day.

At a time when the sighted are enjoying unprecedented ease of access to copyright-protected content, a combination of social, economic, technological and legal factors, including the operation of copyright protection systems, are converging to impede access to this content by the blind or other print-disabled persons. Speakers examined the needs of visually impaired persons as they relate to intellectual property, particularly in terms of how to improve timely access to copyright-protected content.

Opening the meeting, WIPO Director General, Mr. Francis Gurry, announced that, in the framework of its visually impaired persons (VIP) initiative, WIPO will be launching a website - www.visionip.org – dedicated to attracting support, exchanging views, and disseminating information to all interested parties. 

Ambassador Mr. Swashpawan Singh, Advisor to Mr. Gurry on the VIP initiative, pointed out that the continued progress in this area would depend upon the commitment and support of member states and on their ability to take on board the interests of all stakeholders. He added that “it is clear that without contravening the legitimate interests of right holders, greater quantities of copyright-protected material – both analog and digital – could be made available in accessible formats and disseminated across multiple jurisdictions in a timely way, to enhance opportunities for the literacy, independence and productivity of VIPs.” WIPO’s task is to facilitate a process which could lead to the desired outcomes within a reasonable time frame.

Speaking on behalf of WIPO member states, the Permanent Representative of Chile to WTO, Ambassador Mario Matus; the Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations, Ambassador Babacar Carlos Mbaye; and Mr. Douglas George from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada; expressed their openness to continue the discussions on the issue, particularly regarding the international exchange of adapted materials across different jurisdictions.

Mr. Chris Friend, Strategic Objective Leader Accessibility, World Blind Union (WBU) outlined the needs and expectations of the visually impaired community. He was confident that the cooperative efforts between publishers and the visually impaired sector would result in more accessible materials. He underlined that a binding international instrument on the needs of the visually impaired would complement those efforts by ensuring, for instance, the cross-border circulation of books in accessible formats. Blind readers in 19 countries across Latin America would have access to Braille or audiobooks produced by the organization for the blind in Spain (ONCE). The Francophone Africans would do the same with the French collections from Canada, France, Belgium and Luxemburg and Switzerland. The Portuguese organizations could share with Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. 

Mr. Herman Spruijt, President, International Publishers Association (IPA) said that the publishing sector was willing to “contribute its fair share” in finding solutions to the important issue of disability access and highlighted the complexities of dealing with different needs and interests of multiple stakeholders in a fast-moving stream of technological development. He urged parties to be flexible in achieving a common goal rather than creating an artificial polarization. He commended the consultative approach adopted by WIPO to move forward with the VIP initiative.

Mr. Dipendra Manocha, Director of the New Delhi-based Regional Resource Centre, Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, said that standards were key to developing technology-based solutions to address the problem of disability access. He outlined the work of the Consortium in expanding access to works in accessible formats, particularly in the developing world which accounts for some 90% of all VIPs. Mr. Manocha said that while thousands of works existed in accessible formats, developing countries had to recreate masters at great expense because libraries were unable to share their content with their counterparts in developing countries. He pointed out the need to find policy solutions that would enable the widespread use of the technologies that already existed to facilitate access to works by VIPs.

For more information, please contact the News and Media Division at WIPO:
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