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OPLIN 4cast #334: Blind justice

Posted in 4cast

blind justiceDigital information and copyright law often do not play well together, so much so that it looks like Congress may be ready to start a “comprehensive review” of the entire copyright system. Usually we hear about this conflict as it pertains to sharing of copyrighted digital files – library lending of ebooks, for example – but in the past few weeks we have seen news that negotiations at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have highlighted a different conflict, this one between the needs of the visually impaired and the revenue protections built into some current copyright laws. Advocates for the blind want an international exception to copyright that will permit conversion of content to accessible formats, but content producers want to require that any such exception pass the “three-step” test that some countries apply to limit interference with the right of copyright holders to make money.

  • Disney, Viacom and other MPAA members join book publishers to weaken a treaty for the blind (Huffington Post/James Love) “…the June 2011 text was offered to make it easier for countries to ratify the convention if the national practice was to permit uses of works for the blind under other more general provisions in the national copyright law, such as a law on fair use or fair practices, an educational exception or a disability rights law. As WIPO turned to an examination of broader copyright limitations and exceptions issues, the EU began to backtrack and demand additional language in the treaty for the blind text that would require any of the exceptions set out in the treaty be implemented subject to a three step test, raising questions about what if anything the treaty would permit.”
  • On copyright and rights of persons with disabilities: WIPO treaty for the blind (Kluwer Copyright Blog/Tatiana Sinodinou) “Since the conversion to accessible formats is an act of exploitation which is connected to a new market, copyright holders have a strong interest to control it tightly. An example of this controversy in the USA is a case in which the Authors Guild objected to the Kindle 2’s robotic text-to-speech feature, which can read Kindle books aloud in a synthesized voice, claiming that Amazon offered a product that was competitive to audio books, since it would cut into their sales.”
  • Blind advocates: Hollywood lobbying threatens deal for accessible books (Ars Technica/Timothy B. Lee) “The blind community just wants easier access to books. US rightsholders have other ideas. In a Wednesday phone interview, a spokesman for the AAP [Association of American Publishers] told us that any treaty that enhances access for blind people must be coupled with provisions that shore up the rights of copyright holders. His organization has also pushed for additional restrictions on when non-profit organizations would be allowed to produce accessible versions of books. These groups have the ear of the Obama administration, and as a result the demands of rightsholders have dominated recent rounds of negotiations.”
  • IFLA attends Informal Session and Special Session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, 18-20 April 2013 (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters) “Unless substantial changes are made, reading disabled people around the world, particularly in developing and transition countries, would be granted a ‘trophy treaty’ that will not work on the ground, so they would continue to be denied or restricted in their enjoyment of what is a most important human right for everyone, the right to read which underpins every individual’s ability to succeed in the world. This could be worse for reading disabled people than no treaty at all as it would not be reopened for decades to put it right.”

Better news fact:
The news recently has not been all bad for the blind. On May 1, Amazon announced some new features for the Kindle that will improve accessibility for the visually impaired.