CNIB on proposed WIPO treaty for reading disabled

According to a note sent to KEI, CNIB in Canada considers the WBU proposal for a WIPO Treaty for the reading disabled to be “the most critical component of achieving true equality through the development of a ‘Global Library’!. This is a letter that Jim Sanders, the President and Chief Executive Officer of CNIB, sent to the Canada delegation to WIPO.

From: Jim Sanders
To: ‘Albert Cloutier , ‘Couchman Bruce, Drew Olsen, Loris Mirella, Darren Smith,
Cc: ‘Paul Booth, Patricia Neri, Ralph Manning, Chris Friend, James Love
Subject: WIPO treaty for Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons

October 30, 2008

RE: WIPO treaty for Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons

Dear Canadian delegates to WIPO:

As Canada’s leading provider of materials in alternative formats to people with print disabilities, CNIB wishes to express its strong support of the proposal by the World Blind Union, dated October 23, 2008, for a WIPO Treaty for Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons.

The proposal will be discussed at the next meeting of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, November 3-7, 2008.

The two main features of the proposed treaty are (1) to provide a minimum standard for limitations and exceptions for the blind and visually impaired, and (2) to allow and encourage the import and export of works in accessible formats by eligible parties. Briefing notes and the draft text of the treaty are available online:

CNIB supports the proposed treaty for the following reasons:

* An estimated 10% of the population or 3.2 million Canadians are prevented from reading standard print due to a visual, perceptual or physical disability. Such a disability may be the result of vision impairment, a learning disability, or a disability that prevents the physical holding of a book. It has been estimated that only 5% of published information is available in alternative formats.

* The exception for persons with perceptual disabilities in section 32.(1)(a) of the Canadian Copyright Act has played a vital role in facilitating access to published works. The proposed treaty will assist other countries to make an exception in their legislation and to recognize the right of citizens “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” as stated in Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

* The WIPO “Study on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for the Visually Impaired” by Judith Sullivan in 2007 identified more than 50 countries with exceptions. By providing a minimum standard for exceptions, the proposed treaty will help to harmonize the language used by different countries. It will also facilitate the process of securing an exception in developing nations, where legislative reform can be challenging.

* Producing works in alternative format is time-consuming and costly, and the effectiveness of Canada’s exception is always subject to production capacity. Wherever possible, CNIB collaborates with other alternative format producers in Canada and worldwide to avoid duplicating effort.

Because copyright is national in jurisdiction, however, this strategy of non-duplication can actually restrict access. If, for example, a work has been produced in alternative format in Australia, it is not clear in the current Canadian legislation that Canadians have a right to access that work, even though CNIB might produce the same work and make it available in Canada.

By allowing the import and export of alternative format works between countries by eligible parties, the proposed international treaty would remove the barrier to access in such a situation.

* The proposed treaty would not only increase the number of works available in alternative format to Canadians but the range of material. For example, CNIB currently produces works in English and French but it recognizes an urgent need to provide access to works in multiple languages, to reflect the reality of Canadian demographics. Without the ability to import, CNIB would have to duplicate the work done in another jurisdiction, assuming it even has this right, and is not prevented from either importing or producing.

* CNIB is currently engaged in a joint global initiative of the International Federation of Libraries (IFLA) Libraries for the Blind section and the DAISY Consortium to increase access to works in alternative format for people with perceptual disabilities around the world. The initiative is initially focused on collaborative collection development, and discovery and access – issues that depend on clear international standards and the ability to share resources. The proposed treaty is one of the keys to unlocking the door to this “Global Library.”

Canada recently demonstrated its commitment to supporting people living with perceptual disabilities by establishing the Initiative for Equitable Library Access of Library and Archives Canada. CNIB asks the government to bring its leadership on this issue to the international arena and take the following actions:

* Support the proposal for a WIPO Treaty for Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons at the WIPO SSCR meeting on November 3-7, 2008

* Sign and ratify the treaty once finalized without delay, setting an example for other countries to follow

* Integrate the principles and language of the treaty into Canadian legislation through the current process of copyright reform

* Advocate with Canada’s international trading partners to sign and ratify the treaty

We look forward to hearing Canada speak out in support of this pivotal treaty in providing equitable access to information for Canadians and others with perceptual disabilities around the world.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Sanders, C.M.

President and Chief Executive Officer

Paul Boothe, Senior Associate Deputy Minister, Industry Canada
Patricia Neri, Director General, Department of Canadian Heritage
Ralph Manning, Initiative for Equitable Library Access, Library and Archives Canada
Chris Friend, Chair, Copyright and the Right to Read Working Group, World Blind Union
James Love, Director, Knowledge Ecology International
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