Historic Milestone For Rights Of Readers As UN Negotiators Finalize Treaty For The Blind

Maira Sutton | Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) | June 27, 2013

Member states of the United Nations concluded the draft of an international treaty this week that gives people with visual and reading disabilities better access to copyrighted works. The treaty comes as the result of collective efforts to carve out protections for the blind and reading disabled that faced years of resistance from rightsholder industries. Drafting efforts spanned nearly a decade at the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), culminating in a final session in Marrakesh, Morocco running from June 17 until they finalized the treaty on Tuesday.

People with reading and visual disabilities have faced a “book famine,” in which only 7% of published books are converted into accessible formats in the richest countries of the world. That number is even lower in the poorest regions, where only 1% of books are available. New technologies could have already drastically improved the state of things, but over-restrictive copyright has hindered the production and distribution of books in accessible formats. Only 57 of WIPO’s 184 Member States have legal exceptions to copyright for these purposes [pdf], and even worse, inconsistent policies between countries made it almost impossible to share books between countries.