Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘visually disabled’

after Marrakesh

In Posts on June 23, 2014 at 7:59 am

June 28 marks the one year anniversary of the completion of a diplomatic conference to facilitate access to published works for blind, visually impaired and print disabled people. Known as the Marrakesh Treaty, its purpose is to address the book famine that currently exists with respect to anyone of limited reading capability, by: (i) facilitating creation of appropriately formatted materials with the use of exceptions to copyright; and (ii) allowing countries to share materials, thereby reducing costs all round. Hailed as the Miracle in Marrakesh, it is the first multilateral treaty on limitations and exceptions to copyright, and gives credence to the view that negotiation among stakeholders is possible.

But no one had any expectation that the treaty would move forward smoothly. (Some of my earlier coverage is here and here). Prior to last year’s conference, Tatiana Sinodinou posted a detailed assessment of the situation; reminding us that these negotiations began more than thirty years earlier, when UNESCO and WIPO jointly created a working group to examine the possibilities for enhancing access to copyrighted material for those handicapped by visual or auditory limitations.

Sinodinou eloquently captured the tension of what lay ahead: “… The road to Marrakesh is open but is not paved with roses and the outcome of the negotiations is awaited with both hope and reservations.” Given that history, the cooperation found a year ago was worthy of attribution to the miraculous. But tangible benefit is yet to be had; the miracle may give way to mirage if concerted action is not taken.

With the treaty language adopted on 27 June 2013, delegates were invited to sign the treaty on 28 June 2013 and agree to:

… to introduce a standard set of limitations and exceptions to copyright rules in order to permit reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in formats designed to be accessible to [blind, visually impaired and print disabled persons] and to permit exchange of these works across borders by organizations that serve those beneficiaries …

Fifty-one countries immediately obliged. Over the past year, sixteen others signed. And this morning came the welcome news that Australia, Finland, Ireland and Norway have also signed.

Canada’s absence of support is glaring, particularly given the role Canada purportedly played in negotiating the treaty; see Sara Bannerman’s remarks here and Michael Geist’s remarks here.

Geist points out that Canadian law will only need minor modification and that the Federal Government could make such changes during the upcoming scheduled review of Canadian copyright law in 2017. But, he also writes:

The biggest change would likely come from the need to establish an entity that would facilitate, promote, and disseminate accessible format copies of work and exchange information with other countries about accessible works. In other words, the treaty would require Canada to invest in improving access for the blind.

Fortunately, CELA might serve that need. Officially launched on 1 April 2014, with a formal debut at the Canadian Library Association’s National Conference on 29 May 2014, the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) is a non-profit organization that serves Canadians with print disabilities. Supported by the Canadian Urban Libraries Council and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, CELA already has 600 member libraries across Canada. Among the services provided by CELA are:

– A broad choice of formats including audio, braille, e-text and described video
– Access to a growing collection of over 230,000 alternate format items including books, magazines, newspapers and described videos
– A broad selection of genres: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s, young adult, business, self-help, poetry and more
– A choice of delivery options: Direct download to computer, handheld devices and DAISY player; CD and braille mailed to home
– Training and expertise on accessibility

Of course, this only makes it more perplexing that our government is holding back on signing the treaty.

On a brighter note; Israel, which is not yet among the list of signatories, nevertheless amended its copyright law expressly to comply with the treaty requirements. At Israel Technology Law, Eli Greenbaum writes that the Israeli implementation exceeds the minimum standards required. (Hopefully, ratification is forthcoming quickly.) And it appears that India had planned to ratify the treaty by now; in his coverage last month for SpicyIP, Swaraj Paul Barooah writes: “G.R. Raghavender, Registrar of Copyrights, has stated that the ratification is expected by the end of May, 2014.” (Perhaps the election delayed the plans, but the new Indian government intends to act quickly?)

Until twenty countries ratify the treaty, and none have done so yet, the treaty cannot have force. In a lecture given at the Berkman Center on 23 April 2014, Justin Hughes, (chief negotiator for the United States for the Marrakesh Treaty) was unequivocal that much more needs to be done:

The real policy goal, the real thing we should care about is getting educational/cultural/informational materials into the hands of persons with print disabilities. And when you sign the treaty, you haven’t succeeded.

This journey is far from over; the road did not stop at Marrakesh.


More reading:

Explanatory notes, courtesy of World Blind Union.
User Guide to The Marrakesh Treaty, prepared by Jonathan Band.
The 1982 WIPO/UNESCO report is available at Knowledge Ecology International.


Update July 1  India becomes the first country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty (dated to June 30, 2014)

Update June 30, 2016 — Canada accedes, thereby completing the 20 nations needed for the Treaty to enter into Force.




from Braille to Mehta

In Posts on April 19, 2013 at 10:01 pm

“Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about.”
– Louis Braille (1809-1852), 1841 — quoted by Clifford E. Olstrom — Undaunted by Blindness.

“In India, one of the poorest countries the world has ever known, the lot of the blind was to beg with a walking stick in one hand and an alms bowl in the other. Hindus consider blindness a punishment for sins committed in a previous incarnation. But my father, a doctor, tried to fight the superstition and give me an education, like his other children, so that I could become, as he used to say, a self-supporting citizen of the world.”
– Ved Mehta (1934-), 1985  Sightless in a Sighted World.

James Love, writing for Knowledge Ecology International, gives the disappointing news that even the modest progress made in reaching a treaty for better access to copyrighted materials for the blind, is now a thing of the past. Publishers’ groups are “demanding that the Obama Administration push new global standards for technical protection measures, strip the treaty text of any reference to fair use and fair dealing, and impose new financial liabilities on libraries that serve blind people.” Under these terms, such a treaty will hardly be worth the paper it is written on.

No-one ought deny publishers’ legitimate market growth or expansion, but the publishing community has long since acknowledged that they have little interest in the small market of materials for the visually disabled. To put it crassly, there are not enough wealthy blind people out there. According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), which works in concert with the World Health Organization, “… about 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision (severe or moderate visual impairment).”  And, “about 90% of the world’s visually impaired people live in developing countries.”

Ved Mehta is an iconic writer from India. Like my parents, he straddled the end of the British Raj and the emergence of a new India (with all the bloodletting of Britain’s legacy known as Partition.) That he achieved acclaim in the West made his story that much more compelling to those of us who encountered his work before Canada was the multicultural haven we speak of today. Reading the autobiographical entry from his official website though, I could not help but think something was missing:

Before I turned five, [my father] sent me to what he had heard was the country’s best school for the blind, in Bombay, 1,300 miles away from our home, in the Punjab. It proved to be, like the score or so of other such schools in the country, an orphanage cum asylum. I spent a total of three years there, sick a good part of the time, and then was returned home because the school had nothing more to teach me.

The story as told to me by my mother was that Ved Mehta’s father insisted on removing him from that school, or possibly an earlier school. Reason being, the students were being taught only to weave rattan furniture for prospective means of livelihood. Visiting his son, Dr. Mehta saw the reality of a weaver’s life: calloused fingertips. His son would not be able to read Braille. And so ended that assay into schooling, available in India. Later Mehta was accepted into a school for the blind in the United States:

My father raised the necessary money, and I flew there alone when I was 15. I was finally on the road to a formal education. In due course, with the help of many scholarships, I earned a B.A. from Pomona College, in California, a B.A. from Balliol College, Oxford, and an M.A. from Harvard. While I was still a student, I started writing for The New Yorker.

Mehta describes the Social Adjustment program at his school:

“To be blind is an uphill struggle,” Mr. Chiles observed … He was almost totally blind himself. “You’ve got to sell yourself to every sighted person. You’ve got to show him that you can do things that he thinks you can’t possibly do. … Anything you do wrong in the sighted world, … like dressing untidily or putting your elbows on the table while eating, sighted people will chalk up to your blindness, even if most of them commit those sins themselves. They will call you poor wretches, feel sorry for you, and, to my way of thinking, commit the worst sin of all; excuse it on the ground that you’re blind.”

Like Louis Braille, Mehta had devoted parents who did all that was humanly possible to ensure that their son had a fair chance in life. But such families are rare in developing countries. When a family itself is struggling, the disabled inevitably is sidelined. Moreover, the social stigma of disability is not easily overcome under such circumstances.

Imagining the challenges of the disabled in a first world country is daunting enough; to stretch one’s imagination to disability in developing countries seems an impossibility. At least so for the publishing sector.

Update — April 23: The Huffington Post has published a detailed report by James Love on the degradation of the treaty. Love also sheds greater light on why the MPAA has become such a vociferous opponent of the treaty, even after having ensured that audio visual works were removed from the scope (thereby excluding the deaf and hard-of-hearing from any benefit.)

Update — April 24:  The Huffington Post has published a rebuttal from Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO, Motion Picture Association of America. In contrast to Love’s detailed analysis, Dodd confines his remarks to speaking in generalities. According to Dodd, some “… groups have advocated for the inclusion of certain provisions that would establish lower thresholds for copyright protection and weaken certain means used for protecting copyright works.”  As Love details, the World Blind Union and those who actively believe in this treaty, wished for a treaty that “does not change the larger, global copyright system.”  Whereas the publishing community has sought to instill more complexity in the treatment of the exceptions necessary for a better sharing of copyrighted works, for visually disabled people around the world.  Which is (was?) the point of the treaty itself.