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WBU's "books without borders" treaty campaign edges forward

As a visitor to this website, you may have followed WBU’s campaign for a treaty to allow better access to books and published information, which centres on the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organisation, (WIPO) in Geneva. If so, you might recall that last December governments at the WIPO General Assembly agreed that they would indeed finalise a treaty by working towards a “diplomatic conference” to be held in Marrakech, Morocco, in June 2013.
 
That was great news after so many years of campaigning but it is vital that the agreement is meaningful, clear and allows us to do what we need to do to help end the book famine. The treaty must clearly allow us to make accessible format books and share them with blind and partially sighted people across the world, without undue bureaucracy and complication.

Meeting in Geneva 18-22 February 2013

To make progress on the text, and therefore get to Marrakech with a draft treaty that would be close to completion, WIPO held a weeklong “Special SCCR” (copyright committee) meeting between 18th and 22nd February. WBU sent a team to ensure that our concerns were heard by the negotiators.
 
The “Special” SCCR meeting turned out to be very slow and frustrating. The negotiators spent most of the five days behind closed doors discussing how the copyright system as a whole might be affected by our (draft) treaty.
 
WBU has always maintained neutrality on these matters, on condition that nothing in the treaty text should hamper its practical implementation for blind and print disabled people. After all, we are not copyright lobbyists. We are not seeking to change the copyright system any more than is necessary to solve the problem we came to WIPO to address.

Compromise finally reached

After almost five days of lengthy and sometimes heated discussion, the negotiators seem, in essence, to have resolved these systemic copyright matters in a way they are all willing to accept. This indicates a sensible compromise. At the time of writing we have yet to see the final version of the draft text from Friday 22nd February. When we do receive it we will look carefully at the changes in the text to ensure that they are not detrimental to our aims.
 
Much more work is needed to deal with the less theoretical and more practical aspects of the treaty text, such as how, “on the ground”, the treaty would allow us to send accessible books from one country to another.
 
The negotiators will therefore meet again in Geneva on 18-20 April to continue to work on the text, and WBU will be following that work closely.

Marrakech express?

Last week’s agreement would appear to have removed a lot of the politics and mistrust from the text negotiations. Without this agreement, the rest of the work to complete the text and sign the treaty in Marrakech would have had little chance of happening
 
Last but not least, on Friday 22nd February, the final day of the “Special SCCR”, the Director General of WIPO, Francis Gurry, signed the agreement for the Marrakech diplomatic conference to go ahead.
 
This reflects a confidence that the agreement on the text at the meeting really does open the way to conclusion of a treaty this June 2013. If that happened, it would be an historic moment and would open a new chapter in our work to secure blind and partially sighted people’s right to read.