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WIPO Treaty status as of Dec. 2011

Between 21st November and 2nd December, in Geneva, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, (WIPO), held its copyright negotiating committee meeting, the "SCCR".

The first week about 15 delegates attended for WBU, during which the Committee dedicated two days to discussing the question of a new law to improve access for blind and other reading disabled people.

Despite all our efforts, WBU feels that this meeting regressed on the matter of achieving a treaty for blind and other print disabled people.

At the previous SCCR meeting in June we were pleased that member states from various parts of the world, including the EU, had been able to draft a single text from the four competing proposals for a law which the Committee had examined previously. (Known as the "Chair's text").

This latest November /December SCCR meeting saw many amendments to the "Chair's text", which seem to take the Committee further from agreement on the text of a new law than it appeared to be in June 2011.

WBU was particularly dismayed by the unhelpful amendments on the "Chair's text" that the EU negotiators submitted. For instance, the EU wants to remove the right for our organisations to use the new law without rights holder authorisation. Such an amendment would render the new law almost pointless. The EU also sought to limit the number and range of organisations that might be able to use the new law to those whose "primary" mission was to provide accessible books to print disabled people. Such an amendment would see many public libraries, schools and universities unable to benefit from the new law.

Nonetheless, the conclusions of the SCCR point to finalising the text at the next meeting - SCCR24, which will take place in July 2012. They also anticipate agreement on the type of law this text will become - soft law guidelines or a legally binding treaty.

We first formally tabled our treaty proposal in May 2009- two and a half years ago. This is not such a long time for what is after all a negotiation on a UN treaty, and a ground-breaking one at that. However, our patience is not endless, and we need to get concrete results in 2012. With continued hard work this should be achievable.

The big question, not just for WBU but also blind people wanting accessible books across the world, is "Will the EU negotiators work constructively and urgently with other Member States to agree a useful, effective and binding treaty in 2012?"

The Parliament aside, the EU's record on this matter so far is not encouraging. But as we head towards Christmas, perhaps EU negotiators can find inspiration in the novel "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. So far, the EU has played the role of a pre-Christmas, miserly, "Scrooge" at the WIPO negotiations.They have given little away and made us work hard for every small concession.

But Scrooge eventually realised that things could be so much better if he showed some goodwill towards others in need of his help.

WBU urges the European Commission and Council of Ministers to also find some goodwill this Christmas for blind, partially sighted and other print disabled people. Come on Commissioner Barnier and EU Member States! Please come back reformed and ready to be constructive in 2012.Work with us to make 2012 the year of the WIPO treaty for blind and print disabled people.​