Saturday, November 17, 2012

Canada Set to Endorse the Concept of a WIPO Treaty for the Blind


During a meeting with stakeholders convened by Industry Canada on November 16, 2012 concerning the forthcoming Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR/25) meeting in Geneva November 19 to 23, 2012 participants received some welcome news.

In response to a specific question that I asked, it was confirmed that Canada will endorse the concept that there should be a treaty for the visually impaired, i.e. the “blind”. A treaty, of course, will in principle be more effective amongst those countries that ratify or accede to it than a "soft law" declaration or other type of document that could be little more than a politically correct gesture. The USA has been ambivalent and has vacillated on this issue. The EU has opposed a treaty. Naturally, Canada’s ultimate support will depend on the content of a treaty – but the important breakthrough is that Canada will endorse the goal of getting one.

This is also, hopefully, a sign that Canada will begin to reclaim its profile, independence and influence in WIPO, all of which has been in decline for many years and for many reasons. Canada needs to be a credible player in all international fora dealing with IP, and WIPO is the oldest, largest and most specialized. Canada may have less economic and political clout on the international stage than the USA, EU, and certain other countries. But Canada is still a G8 country and one that can make a very constructive contribution both in its own interest and for the general betterment of many around the world, including the blind, those who are in developing countries, and those who are in countries that might wish to reclaim their IP sovereignty. There are other signs elsewhere that Canada is beginning to participate more actively on the international stage, where it was once a very influential honest broker with positive results for itself and the rest of the world.

Canada has much to be proud of by way of example. In 2012 alone, Canada has seen new copyright legislation (Bill C-11)  that has some excellent and exemplary aspects and the magnificent landmark "pentalogy" from the Supreme Court of Canada. There is immense interest in these developments in other countries. Naturally, the Canadian delegation should proudly put these developments on the record at WIPO, which will help the cause of better legislation and jurisprudence elsewhere. We shall look forward to seeing appropriate reference and explanation of these milestones reflected in the Report from the WIPO meeting in due course.

And hopefully, by standing up and being counted in plenary meetings as well as in the corridors, Canada will help move the USA, EU and other power players to do the right thing for the blind.

It is intolerable that efforts are being made by some content owners, collectives and even countries, in this digital age, to hinder rather than to promote, the wonderful new possibilities of access to knowledge and culture. The blind have to struggle and invariably do so with great dignity to do so many things that sighted persons take for granted. The world should do its best to enable and empower them with new technology and helpful legal regimes.


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