After four years of intense negotiation and ongoing pressure from civil society, country members of the World International Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) moved to set a diplomatic conference in June 2013 to sign a treaty that will standardize cross-border rights for the blind and people with visual disabilities.

Much has been lost since the first version of the exceptions and limitations treaty was drafted by the World Blind Union (WBU) and proposed by countries for negotiation at WIPO. The current draft text of the treaty reflects significant agreement among member states, though some differences remain. Among those differences are questions relating to commercial availability—in other words, what happens in places where a title is commercially available in an accessible format—and how cross-border transfer of accessible works will take place between countries. Member states must also agree on how to treat the traditional formulation of the provision for national law limitations and exceptions in the draft treaty text (the so-called three-step test).

But the main beneficiaries of this instrument are optimistic. Maryanne Diamond, leader of the WBU Right to Read campaign, commented:

“The decision of the WIPO Extraordinary General Assembly today is a very significant milestone on the road to a treaty. It means governments have kept the work on track to agree a binding and effective treaty in 2013, which if completed would allow blind people to access many thousands more books. The work is far from over, though. We urge all parties to now negotiate a simple, binding and effective treaty. A good treaty will really help us to end the book famine in which only some one to seven percent of books are ever made accessible to us.” (WBU press release)

Rahul Cherian, from Indian WBU member Inclusive Planet, said:

“The objective of this treaty must be that of helping blind and print disabled people to get accessible format books, especially in developing countries. To achieve this goal, it must be workable and simply worded so that blind and print disabled people and their organizations can use it to really make a difference.” (WBU press release)

Despite oppositional pressure from the EU and the US, Member States decided to convene a Diplomatic Conference in June 2013. To be hosted by Morocco, the mandate of this Conference is to negotiate and adopt a treaty on limitations and exceptions for visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities (pursuant to the draft text in SCCR/25/2). A Preparatory Committee was constituted to lead the logistics of the Diplomatic Conference and approve the Basic Proposal for the final provisions of the Treaty.

Check out some video interviews from the recent General Assembly meeting. You can also read Knowledge Ecology International's statement on these recent positive developments.

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