Support the Rights of the Disabled

A new treaty is being proposed to the UN that will guarantee accessibility of copyrighted material. Apologies for the BoingBoing link, but this article is good, and links to the relevant documents.

The Current Sitauation

A book is published.  An audiobook may or may not be included in that publication.  A Braille book may or may not be included in that publication.  Let’s say a blind person wants to read that book.  If neither the audiobook nor the Braille book were published, their access to that material is pretty much limited to having someone read the book to them.  If an ebook was published, they may have to buy very expensive software that will read the book to them, they may be too poor to own a computer, or their software my not be able to handle the proprietary format of that ebook.  Recall that we are talking about the UN here, blind people in third world countries have very limited resources.  Copyright law on ebooks becomes bleary when you cross borders.

Note this is for all copyrighted material, not just books.  That can include art, comics, magazines, and scientific journals.

The limitations that exist today are caused by publishers or authors that are concerned about their material being stolen.  ebooks can be copied, audiobooks can be copied.  These are valid concerns by people that make their living creating material that the rest of us can enjoy.

What this Treaty Means

The parties that sign this treaty agree to “undertake certain measures to enable full and equal access to information and communication for persons that are visually impared or have other disabilities in accessing copyrighted works”.

The proposed treaty states that it is meant to encourage the creation of new methods of accessibility; the point is not to require copyright holders to give their content away for free.  Countries are free to make their own laws that support this treaty, which is why the language is vague.  While it does state that accessible versions of copyright materieal may be created without the copyright holder’s knowledge or permission, the copies will be “supplied exclusively to be used by visually impared persons, and … the activity is undertaken on a non-profit basis.”  These covered users are allowed to make copies for their own use.

The Problem

Several countries are currently attempting to block this treaty.  This doesn’t mean they don’t want to sign it, it means that they are trying to destroy it.  The current list of countries opposing this treaty includes the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Vatican, and Norway.  The current list supporting it includes Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Jamaica, and many countries in Asia and Africa.

The treaty isn’t needed in rich countries like the US and Canada, where disabled rights are already protected by local law, and materials are available through libraries.  Most of the material we have available here in the US for disabled users is excepted under copyright law, and provided through grants, charities, and government programs for the disabled.  The concern is the poorer countries, which do not have the funding to implement such programs.

The treaty represents a shift in copyright law.  Current copyright laws all support the copyright holder, not the copyright user.  Publishing firms are pressuring rich countries to destroy this treaty because it supports the copyright user for the first time, a shift that could lead to other rights for users in the future.


~ by Liz on May 29, 2009.

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