Earlier this month, I wrote about a diplomatic conference in Morocco designed to finalize a much-needed copyright treaty for the visually impaired. The column noted that the treaty seeks to do two things: first, it establishes minimum standards for copyright limitations and exceptions for the visually impaired. Second, the treaty would facilitate the export of accessible works.
The conference is now in its second week with growing fears that there will be no deal. The major hold-out appears to be the United States, which is blocking consensus on a range of issues. According to documents released over the weekend, the primary source of the U.S. opposition comes from the motion picture association, which has engaged in months of behind-the-scenes lobbying designed to dismantle the treaty. For example, the MPA is trying to block the inclusion of a fair use/fair dealing provision, despite the fact that many countries (led by the U.S.) already have such a rule.
The MPA has also encouraged the U.S. to block or muddy a digital locks provision that would require an exception for the visually impaired. Canada is among many countries (including Australia. Switzerland, Argentina. Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Holy See, Japan, India, African Group, Guatemala, Bangladesh, China, Kenya, South Africa, Morocco) that is supporting the following language:
A Member State/Contracting Party shall ensure effective and necessary measures in accordance with that Member State/Contracting Party’s national copyright law regarding technological protection measures such that beneficiary persons are not prevented from enjoying limitations and exceptions under this instrument/Treaty.
Yet the U.S. is opposed, seemingly based on opposition by the MPA (there are reports this morning that a compromise on this issue may have been reached).
The documents make it clear that the MPA and other rights holder organizations fear a treaty for the visually impaired since it establishes a precedent by focusing on the need for minimum limitations and exceptions in copyright. In response, their aggressive backroom lobbying tactics seek to maintain the rules that stifle access for millions of blind and visually impaired people around the world. The next few days will determine whether they will succeed or if countries such as Canada will stand up for the rights of the blind and visually impaired.