Report from SCCR 22 discussions of WIPO treaty for persons who are blind or have other disabilities

Members of the WBU delegation at WIPO SCCR 22

June 16, 10 am: There are good news and less good news to report from Geneva. While overall, things have moved in positive directions, with the US and the EU engaged in very constructive negotiations with Brazil and other treaty sponsors, there are still many frustrations. One is that the “3 day” meeting time to discuss the WIPO work on disabilities has effectively been shrunk. Yesterday WIPO head Francis Gurry arranged for the SCCR to adjourn at 4:30, after only an hour of meeting in the afternoon, for a high level forum featuring the treaty’s main corporate opponents — the book publishers. This morning, at 9am, there is an ambassadors meeting, and the SCCR will again be delayed. So far, the agenda for the meeting is not decided, and we are still on opening statements. Only one NGO statement has been allowed so far — from IFFRO, one of the most bitter opponents of the treaty.

The US strategy has been to engage constructively on the text of a non-paper with Brazil, the EU and others, but to attack any text dealing with privacy rights or contracts, and to try to block anything that suggests a diplomatic conference. Yesterday Justin Hughes cynically used the fact that Article 30 of the UNCRPD (http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=150) has not been effectively implemented to imply that treaties are not needed or effective– in the same statement where he endorsed a treaty for performers, and during a week when the US is traveling to Vietnam for the TPP binding trade agreement negotiation, and while the US is trying to finalize the signing of ACTA. Hughes wants to present himself as a true friend of persons with disabilities, while he also tries to block a diplomatic conference on a treaty — without having to say publicly the USPTO opposes a treaty. Some 2.5 years in office, you would think the Obama Administration would have enough time to decide if they are for or against a treaty, publicly, but no such luck so far. With ZERO newspaper reporting on the treaty negotiations, and no activity by US Congress to support the treaty, USPTO seems to think may be able to kill it without an serious political repercussions. However, I doubt that USPTO has not considered that a treaty will move forward — there is some support within the US government to do so, any news coverage of the administration position could change the dynamics, and the disabilities community and developing countries are taking a firm position so far. My own opinion is that the treaty is actually doing quite well, and it is beginning to look like when and not if. The continued and constructive informal negotiations are an important reason for such optimism.

The EU strategy is also to block a treaty, but also to insist on provisions for “trust” for intermediaries, in some cosmic form, not found in any EU statute that anyone has seen, based upon the EU stakeholder dialogue documents, which have not been signed or implemented, and involve voluntary agreements rather than statutory rights of access.

The European Commission pretty much has a new team at the SCCR this week, and they are taking a much more active role, despite claiming surprising ignorance of actual statutory exceptions in EU countries. As many know, Maria Martin-Pratt has replaced Tilman Lueder as the top copyright official in the European Union. Now one of two Maria’s heading major copyright posts (the other is Maria Pallante, who was just appointed Register of Copyright in the US), Martin-Pratt reminded me that we first met me at the 1996 WIPO diplomatic conference, and made a reference to a blog we wrote when her appointment was announced (/node/1105).

So far, there is not much evidence that the EU will try to link progress on a treaty for disabilities to progress on a treaty for broadcasting organizations. The broadcasting treaty seems to be blocked at this time, given disputes over the nature of the rights and the extension of the treaty to the Internet.

The Africa Group wants a “holistic” approach to limitations and exceptions, and I predict they will press for something meaningful to address their own concerns about access to knowledge and development, but so far, they seem supportive to work on disabilities as a separate stand alone measure, if there is a commitment to work on the broader access to knowledge issues. Next year, an ambassador from Zambia will chair the SCCR.

The WIPO Development Agenda Group (DAG) has seems to be a growing force in the SCCR negotiations, and I think everyone should see that as a positive development. India’s early intervention was quite strong, and Egypt played an
important role reminding Gurry that developing countries want balance in copyright, as part of the WIPO work program.

The new SCCR chair is Manuel Guerra of Mexico, a very charming, accessible and able expert. He replaced Jukka Liedes, who had been the sole chair of the WIPO copyright committees since the mid 1980s. A number of delegates remembered Jukka with some affection. Coming from a Group B countries, KEI thought that Jukka was doing a good job as regards the work on disabilities and other limitations on exceptions.

China is now the vice chair of the SCCR.

For a detailed history and background on the negotiation, see: Background and update on negotiations for a WIPO copyright treaty for persons who are blind or have other disabilities.

The twitter hash tag for the 22nd meeting of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright is #sccr22

WIPO is providing live captioning for the meeting here: http://www.streamtext.net/text.aspx?event=WIPO password: wipo4me

2011 June 15, Exceptions to copyright: White House to decide if treaty for the blind moves forward, Le Monde dipolomatique.

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