Breakthrough for the blind

July 17, 2014 01:50 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:19 pm IST

India under the Narendra Modi government has become the first country in the world to ratify the Marrakesh Convention that codifies >exemptions to copyrights to benefit blind and vision-impaired readers. The government should now build on this momentum and enact the comprehensive and path-breaking law, now before a Parliamentary Standing Committee, that could transform the lives of millions of people with various disabilities. This is imperative also because seven long years have elapsed since New Delhi ratified (it was one of the earliest to do so) the United Nations Convention for the Disabled. The current treaty of the World Intellectual Property Organization removes legal restrictions on the conversion of published works into any one among a range of alternative formats which the blind and vision-impaired may access. Ratifying countries are required to enact domestic laws to overcome their own copyright limitations to further this objective. The treaty also eases hurdles for cross-country exchange of books in different formats so as to overcome the cost of duplication. This is a genuine concern, as non-governmental organisations are by and large the principal service-providers for the disabled. India amended its copyright law in 2012 broadly >on the lines of the Marrakesh Treaty . Hence, the most direct benefit from its ratification of the latter would be the access to literature that is converted overseas. WIPO has just launched the Accessible Books Consortium to provide technical support for the production of suitable formats and to create a global database of such transcriptions and to encourage publishers to participate in this initiative.

All of the above potentially add up to vast improvements on the present situation where published works are out of the reach of an overwhelming majority of the blind. The exception to this rule is the extremely limited availability of educational material. The worst-affected are people in developing countries, which are home to 90 per cent of the world’s blind population, according to the World Health Organization. Moreover, barely 15 countries world-wide have copyright exemptions as per a WIPO finding, and these are mostly in the advanced economies. The full potential of this convention will be realised ultimately when large numbers of >blind people have full access to quality education, which is still a distant dream. The treaty will not enter into force internationally unless it is ratified by at least 20 countries. The lack of backing from the United States from the beginning of the negotiations could prove to be a handicap in canvassing wider support. The world has indeed come a long way since WIPO began to contemplate copyright exemptions some three decades ago.

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