Canada's intervention to SCCR 20: 'International instrument on access to protected materials by persons with print disabilities'

The following intervention was delivered by John Gero, Canada's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO) during SCCR 20. Ambassador Gero is currently serving as the Chair of the WTO General Council.

Intervention — International instrument on access to protected materials by persons with print disabilities

Thank you Mr. Chairman

Canada is pleased once again to address this Committee on the important issue of access to work by the print disabled. We would like to thank Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and Mexico – the co-sponsors of the Visually Impaired Persons (VIP) Treaty Proposal – for their contribution to this discussion. We would also like to thank the U.S., the European Union, and the Africa Group for their respective proposals that address access to print materials by persons with print disabilities, which have been recently submitted to this Committee.

Canada would like to take the opportunity to reconfirm our interest in finding expeditious and pragmatic solutions for access to works by the print disabled. Today, Canada would like to offer our perspective on the general principles that should apply to a possible instrument. We would also like to highlight how some potential reforms to Canada’s domestic regime could positively contribute to the work of this Committee.

In terms of some considerations that could serve the work towards an international instrument, Canada would like to note the following:

First, the element of flexibility is vitally important. It is Canada’s position that any solution to the problems of access by print disabled persons to copyright works should allow for a variety of means for domestic production of accessible material. Members States should have the choice of using exceptions, compulsory licensing or conditional exceptions. Providing Member States with flexibility in this regard is important as some Member States have laws that provide different types of limitations and exceptions for different types of accessible materials. Although there are some Member States here that suggest a mandatory exception is necessary, it is Canada’s view that enabling Member States to implement provisions which reflect local realities by having more than one type of limitation or exception, including for different types of accessible material, would not prevent but actually enhance the international exchange of such materials.

In this regard, a mandatory exception in all countries to allow for the import and export of special format materials does not seem necessary. It is important to recognize and account for the reality that not all Member States have identical laws. Moreover, it is also important to provide Member States with the ability to account for cultural differences and not to restrict their capacity to innovate in their legal framework.

With respect to the various proposals that have been tabled, we note that the Consensus Instrument proposed by the U.S. and the Joint Recommendation proposed by the EU allow for flexibility in laws. Canada sees this as an advantage for it recognizes effective regimes which are already in place, including those which may require payment in certain circumstances.

Another important consideration is that of the trusted intermediary. In order for the discussion to progress, it will be key to address the role and obligations of trusted intermediaries. Canada takes note that some proposals introduce the concept of trusted intermediaries. Canada would welcome a discussion on the range of circumstances in which these organizations could play a role.

Aside from Canada’s preference for flexibility, we view the ability of individuals with print disabilities to import special format materials for their own use without necessarily going through a domestic organization, such as a trusted intermediary, to be an important feature of the copyright modernization bill recently introduced in Canadian parliament that we will now turn to briefly describe.

As stated at the beginning of our intervention, Canada would also like to highlight how some potential reforms to Canada’s domestic regime could positively contribute to the work of this Committee. Earlier this month, a copyright modernization bill was introduced in the Canadian Parliament. This bill implements the rights and protections under the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, it creates new exceptions for educators, librarians, consumers and innovators and it strengthens the tools for rights owners to fight piracy. More to the point of our current discussion, the bill also explicitly addresses the issue of the import and export of special format materials for the print disabled.

With respect to importation, Canadian law – and this principle has existed in our law for many years – provides that it is only necessary to look at the limitation or exception in Canadian law to determine whether material can be imported. The copyright modernization bill clarifies for print disabled persons the existing rule that copyright materials can be imported into Canada if they could have been made in Canada under one of the exceptions in our law. This includes the importation of special format material for the perceptually disabled including importation by individuals with print-related disabilities.

We think that this example from Canadian law demonstrates that the importation of special format materials can be achieved in a variety of ways.

We would also like to note that this principle on importation may already exist in the laws of a number of Member States.

With respect to exportation, the bill in front of the Canadian parliament also has specific measures related to the export of special format materials. It includes a number of provisions to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between the interests of the parties involved. First, exportation is limited to special format versions of works by Canadian authors or authors of the country of importation. Second, the bill allows for the possibility of a royalty collected for export material even though there is a complete exception for domestic production of special format materials. Third, export from Canada can only be done by organizations, not by individuals; and the importer recognized by the law can only be an organization and not an individual. And fourth, the bill allows for the possibility of requiring a contract between the Canadian exporting organization and the foreign importing organization. A contract of this type could stipulate, for example, that the copies could only be used by persons with print disabilities. In this sense, this provision is aligned with the concept of trusted intermediaries by ensuring that the distribution is limited to persons with print disabilities.

Of note, the bill allows the export of special format materials to foreign countries regardless of what the law is in the foreign country and regardless of whether the foreign country has a limitation or exception for the creation of special format materials.

Although the bill does not allow for the export of third country material, any international instrument should establish rules and principles under which third country material can be exported.

In conclusion, we hope that Canada’s perspective on general principles and the approaches set out in our new copyright modernization bill are helpful in advancing the dialogue on this issue.

In terms of next steps, Canada does not see a consensus instrument or a joint recommendation as excluding the possibility of a treaty. Indeed, it can be considered as an important building block.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.