The US Delegation in Geneva at WIPO - notably and interestingly led by the very capable Prof. Justin Hughes - has just delivered as very positive statement on a possible treaty for the blind....
The US is clearly open to the possibility of a multilateral treaty. And the USA is specifically suggesting "a properly-limited international rule of exhaustion in relation to special format copies made under existing national law exceptions for persons with print disabilities."
This is good news.
Here is the US opening statement, courtesy of Jamie Love.
Even Jamie is impressed....and his tweets say the EU "is beginning to look pretty bad, in comparison to US statement."
World Intellectual Property Organization
Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR)
December 14-18, 2009
United States of America
Statement on Copyright Exceptions and Limitations for
Persons with Print Disabilities
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States is proud to have a series of specific exceptions and
limitations in our copyright law, including for education, libraries,
and persons with print disabilities.
The law of the United States has these exceptions because we believe
access to information, cultural expression, and ideas is essential and
we know that governments have a role to play in facilitating that access
and reducing barriers to information, education and full participation
in a democratic society. So while the United States believes profoundly,
in the words of our Supreme Court, that copyright law is “the engine of
free expression,”1we are also committed to policies that ensure everyone
has a chance to get the information and education they need and to live
independently as full citizens in their communities.
Because education and civic engagement can be severely limited when
information is not available in accessible formats, under US copyright
law qualified non-profit organizations and government agencies are free
to reproduce and distribute published literary works under copyright in
specialized formats for use by blind persons or persons with other print
disabilities. We acknowledge that more is needed, but we are proud of
what this copyright exception has achieved. One of the main providers of
materials under this exception, the National Library Service,
distributes two (2) million Braille and audiobook copies of works to
nearly 800,000 users each year. And we have had this provision in our
law since 1996.
Of course, the United States is not alone in serving those with print
disabilities through carefully crafted limitations and exceptions in
copyright law. As we all know, over 50 countries have specific statutory
exceptions addressed to the needs of the visually-impaired and persons
with print disabilities. Other countries like India are in the midst of
thoughtful deliberations on their own national exceptions.
So the United States is pleased that WIPO is addressing this issue. We
believe that WIPO can move forward on this issue meaningfully and
In that respect, the United States wants to first acknowledge the WIPO
Study on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for the Visually Impaired,
prepared by Ms. Judith Sullivan, and presented to the Standing Committee
in 2006.2 This Study represents the kind of thorough comparative work we
must always do as a foundation for the development of new norms in
international copyright law. We also recognizes the on-going work of the
WIPO Stakeholders' Platform, which continues to explore in detail how
the needs of persons with print disabilities can be better addressed
through trusted intermediaries, new technologies, better formats, and
improved "best practices" in the publishing industry.
The United States also wants to acknowledge and express our appreciation
for the draft treaty language prepared by the World Blind Union and
submitted as a formal proposal at the last session of the Standing
Committee by our colleagues from Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay.3 We want
to recognize the tremendous work on that draft that was done by the
World Blind Union, the International Federation of Library Associations,
the DAISY Consortium, and several other groups and individuals. The WBU
treaty proposal will help the Standing Committee focus on this problem
and find the right means of addressing access to materials for people
with print disabilities through well-crafted exceptions to copyright
protection that can become an integral part of the international
As we explained in the last meeting of the Standing Committee, the
United States has been engaged in a process of understanding the
problems that confront persons with print disabilities in our own
country. This has been a joint effort of the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office and the U.S. Copyright Office with leadership from the White
House. This process included a Notice of Inquiry in March 2009 that
generated numerous public responses; a public roundtable in May with
many stakeholder representatives presenting different perspectives on
making copyrighted works accessible to persons with print disabilities;
a further public comment period in October and December that included
specific questions on the WBU treaty proposal; and, just last week, an
informal White House meeting of representatives from our country’s
leading organizations for the blind and visually-impaired, our library
community, and our copyright industries.
Those of us working on this issue in the U.S. Government believe that we
are genuinely studentsof this problem; we are still in the process of
learning. But we are committed to doing our homework and doing it well.
Having said that we are still learning and studying, the United States
comes to this meeting with greater clarity and conviction in our views
on how the international copyright community should proceed in
addressing the needs of those with print disabilities.
Our commitment to reaching an international consensus
on copyright exceptions for persons with print disabilities
First, the United States believes that the time has come for WIPO
Members to work toward some form of international consensus on basic,
necessary limitations and exceptions in copyright law for persons with
print disabilities. This international consensus could take multiple
forms, including a model law endorsed by the SCCR, a detailed Joint
Recommendation to be adopted by the WIPO General Assemblies, and/or a
multilateral treaty. The United States is open to discussing and
exploring all these options.
The United States believes that the initial most productive course of
action may be a work program that begins with a series of serious,
focused consultations aimed at producing a carefully-crafted Joint
Recommendation of the Berne Assembly and the WIPO General Assembly. We
further believe this initial Joint Recommendation could be a step toward
the development of a treaty establishing basic copyright limitations and
exceptions for persons with print disabilities.
The first goal of international consensus in this area
In our consultations and review it has become clear to us that the most
pressing problem – the one identified repeatedly by experts – is the
cross-border distribution of special format materials made for persons
with print disabilities, whether these special format materials are made
under copyright exceptions in national law or special licensing
arrangements. Therefore, the United States believes that our first goal
should be to reach international consensus on the free exportation and
importation of special format materials for persons with print
disabilities in all countries.
We are confident that this body, the Berne Assembly, and the WIPO
General Assembly have the expertise, wisdom, and resolve to find a
suitable solution to this problem. We are prepared to work with other
countries to explore creative solutions to this problem, including, but
not limited to, [a] the establishment of a properly-limited
international rule of exhaustion in relation to special format copies
made under existing national law exceptions for persons with print
disabilities and/or [b] an international legal norm that trusted
intermediaries and non-profit organizations working for persons with
print disabilities must be able to exchange special format copies
without fear that copyright law bars such activities.
We believe that a solution to the problem of cross-border distribution
of special format materials, properly delineated to prevent abuses,would
solve the foremost problems identified by the print disability and
Further international consensus on basic exceptions for print
The United States is also prepared to participate in a WIPO work program
to establish further international consensus on specific exceptions and
limitations for persons with print disabilities that should be part of
national copyright laws.
As a practical matter, we believe that this project will take longer
than finding common ground on the cross-border distribution of special
format copies made under existing national exceptions. First, any such
consensus should acknowledge the diversity of established national laws
in this area and the diversity of successful experiences with copyright
exceptions for persons with print disabilities that WIPO Members have
had. Second, any such consensus should ensure that WIPO Members retain
the flexibility to craft copyright exceptions and limitations to meet
changing social, economic, and technological conditions that affect the
print disability community. Third, the specific exceptions and
limitations that emerge from such a process should acknowledge – as many
in the visually impaired and print disability communities have told us
-- that market practices can often help to solve problems of access to
materials and that mandatory exceptions are most needed to address
market failures. Finally, consensus on basic copyright exceptions for
the print disability communities can and should be reached within the
framework of the Berne acquis; Berne Article 9(2); and the corresponding
provisions of TRIPS, the WCT, and the WPPT.
A balanced system of international copyright law
We recognize that some in the international copyright community believe
that any international consensus on substantive limitations and
exceptions to copyright law would weaken international copyright law.
The United States does not share that point of view. The United States
is committed to both better exceptions in copyright law and better
enforcement of copyright law. Indeed, as we work with countries to
establish consensus on proper, basic exceptions within copyright law, we
will ask countries to work with us to improve the enforcement of
copyright. This is part and parcel of a balanced international system of
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