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WIPO Director General Pledges Support for India’s Visually Impaired Community

Geneva, November 11, 2009

Credit: Dhillon Photographics

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry met representatives of India’s visually impaired (VIP) community at a conference on the “Right to Read of persons with print disabilities and copyright challenges” organized by the VIP community in cooperation with the Government of India in New Delhi on November 11, 2009, and reaffirmed WIPO’s commitment to supporting international attempts to improve access to copyright protected works by visually impaired persons (VIPs).  “Let me assure you that this is a priority area for the World Intellectual Property Organization,” Mr. Gurry said.

More than 314 million blind or visually impaired people around the world stand to benefit from a more flexible copyright regime adapted to current technological realities. Individuals with reading impairment often need to convert information into Braille, large print, audio, electronic and other formats using assistive technologies.  It is estimated that only 5% of published books in developed countries are converted into formats accessible to the reading impaired.  In India, however, only 0.5% of works are published in accessible formats.  This has an adverse impact on the educational and employment opportunities of the country’s nearly 70 million reading impaired citizens.

While, today, sighted individuals enjoy unprecedented access to copyright-protected content, in some contexts, social, economic, technological and legal factors, including the operation of copyright protection systems, can combine to seriously impede access to such works by the blind or other reading impaired persons.  Widespread use of digital technologies, in particular, has prompted reconsideration of the question of how to maintain a balance between the protection available to copyright owners, and the needs of specific user groups, such as reading impaired persons.

Credit: Dhillon Photographics

During the meeting, members of the Indian VIP community endorsed WIPO’s role in steering the VIP Initiative at the international level.  Mr. Gurry reaffirmed his personal commitment to the specific needs of this community, particularly in developing and least-developed countries:  He said innovation and affordability are key considerations when addressing the specific requirements of the VIP in developing countries.

To move forward on these questions, Mr. Gurry noted, we will need to take join ranks with UN partners, namely the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among others, to make best use of the expertise and skills that are available.  The ITU for example, is particularly well placed to provide important technological inputs in the field of telephony and communications and to foster public-private partnerships in this area.

Mr. Gurry welcomed India’s readiness to test the prototype guidelines for trusted intermediaries recently adopted by the WIPO Stakeholders’ Platform.  The Director General said that WIPO was ready to explore options to support training/capacity building activities in India for VIPs within the framework of the VIP initiative.

The New Delhi meeting reviewed a series of operational arrangements that could enable fast track access to certain copyright-protected works, particularly educational materials, in local Indian languages.  It also focused on the need to incorporate the necessary flexibilities in the Indian Copyright Act 1957 for the benefit of print impaired persons.

Representatives of key organizations such as the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH), the Regional Resource Centre of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY), the Centre for Internet and Society and the Federation of Publishers’ & Booksellers’ Associations in India presented their views and concerns on the subject.  The meeting was opened to a larger audience of authors, publishers, collective management organizations and librarians, among others.  India’s former Ambassador of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Mr. Swashpawan Singh, honorary advisor on the VIP Initiative to the Director General of WIPO, also participated in the discussions.


In its May 2008 session, the WIPO’s Standing Committee for Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) acknowledged the special needs of VIPs and stressed the importance of dealing, without delay and with appropriate deliberation, with the needs of the blind, visually impaired, and other reading-disabled persons, including discussions at the national and international level on possible ways and means of facilitating and enhancing access to protected works. 

In this context, WIPO is currently hosting a global Stakeholders’ platform to explore the specific needs, and concerns, of both copyright owners and reading impaired persons.  The aim of the platform is to explore and identify possible operational arrangements to make published works available in accessible formats to the VIP community and within a reasonable time frame.  The Platform has recognized the importance of building trust among all parties and has agreed on a first set of principles to facilitate the cross border transfer of published works to print-disabled people, particularly among charities. 

A draft treaty on the visually impaired persons and for other people with reading disabilities was put forward by the delegations of Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay in May 2009.  This, together with other possible proposals and contributions by the members of the SCCR, will be discussed at the 19th Session of the SCCR in December 2009, with a view to establishing a multilateral legal framework in the field of limitations and exceptions for the benefit of VIPs.

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