May 28, 2013

US ensuring the failure of a treaty to allow the blind access to books


United States trade representatives are scuttling the Treaty for the Blind.

Despite Obama’s statement four years ago that the administration would support international negotiations to promote disabled access to books, United States trade representatives are scuttling the Treaty for the Blind.

As Moby Lives wrote last year, the US is blocking key provisions of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Treaty, which would allow member states to provide easy access to copyrighted material—from textbooks to entertainment—in appropriate formats, whether braille or audiobook. What’s ironic, is that the US is now pushing for a treaty that is far more restrictive than even what is currently in place in America. Writes Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing,

“Rather than promoting the US approach — which allows for the creation of works in accessible formats without permission — the US Trade Rep and his friends from the MPAA are advocating for a treaty that is far more restrictive than US law, ensuring that the US itself could never sign it.”

Doctorow writes that Jim Fruchterman, founder of Benetech, a non-profit that helps make books available digitally to the blind, is outraged at the lack of progress. Fruchterman says that private interests are hijacking the Treaty, creating a situation where the MPAA is advocating for stronger protections for their copyrights than would currently be accepted in an American court. Private interests are taking the opportunity to bully stricter copyright controls on developing nations, in what is now being called, a “Treaty to Protect Rightsholders from the Blind.”

What’s of concern, especially to book publishers, is that developing nations will not implement the loosening of IP restrictions in good faith. David Kravets at Wired writes, “At its core, publishers don’t trust the developing world — with its lax intellectual-property policies — to be granted the power to reproduce their works without permission.”

Of course it’s the MPAA’s whole reason for existence to militantly protect their content, but while they attempt to impose stricter copyright controls on the rest of the world than we would accept for ourselves, the disabled are prevented from accessing the content that would allow them to have jobs, to participate in civil society, or to enjoy a whole library of literature like any other person. To put it another way, does the MPAA not want blind people to read?


Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.