Search My Blog

Friday, September 9, 2011

Help Stop the Blind Being Kicked in the Teeth Again - Open Enterprise

Help Stop the Blind Being Kicked in the Teeth Again

I frequently cover the subject of copyright on this blog because increasingly it is impacting the lives of readers, both as individuals and as people working in companies, in an adverse way. But these problems of accessing texts, say, are even greater for a particular subset of readers: those who are visually impaired.

I am sure that everyone reading this blog who is not visually impaired would agree that this group of people deserves extra consideration to help them overcome any obstacles that get in the way of accessing information - so vital in the modern world. In a humane society, then, our political representatives would bend over backwards to aid this and similar groups through legislation and treaties designed to make things at least a little easier.

We do not live in that world, and the following disgraceful copyright saga is the proof.

As this timeline from Knowledge Ecology International indicates, in 1981:

The governing bodies of WIPO and UNESCO agreed to create a Working Group on Access by the Visually and Auditory Handicapped to Material Reproducing Works Produced by Copyright.

In 1982:

The Working Group on Access by the Visually and Auditory Handicapped to Material Reproducing Works Protected by Copyright met at UNESCO House, Paris, from October 25 to 27, 1982.

In 1983:

"Model Provisions Concerning the Access by Handicapped Persons to the Works Protected by Copyright," were drawn up by the October 1982 Working Group on the subject convened jointly by UNESCO and WIPO.

Thirty years after the discussions began, and model provisions were drawn up, there is still no treaty that would enable the visually handicapped around the world to access and share copyright materials.

That sharing is important, because it means that once a text has been converted to an audio book, say, it does not need recording again, allowing more works to be converted into alternative formats. Sharing is one of the reasons open source is more efficient than closed source: you don't have to keep on re-inventing the wheel.

But that's not happening in the world of the visually impaired. The copyright industries, loath as they are ever to concede anything to anyone, even to the blind, are refusing to allow such sharing to be an accepted practice because they fear that somehow there is going to be a global conspiracy of the blind to defraud them of their “rights”.

Rather than risk this apocalyptic situation, for the last three decades the copyright industries have lobbied Western governments to stonewall any treaty for the visually impaired.

And so it is that the blind have been waiting in darkness for nearly a third of a century, cruelly teased by the negotiators - doubtless highly-skilled, highly-paid negotiators who have had a whale of a time as they met up to haggle over possible phrasings of a theoretical treaty - that they might soon have easier access to written materials in their lifetime.

And that teasing goes on: we now have the wonderfully-titled “SCCR/22/15 Consensus Document on an international instrument on limitations and exceptions for persons with print disabilities”. Despite the fact that it represents the fruit of 30 years of discussions - or maybe because - there are still disagreements, essentially driven by the copyright industries who predict that the sky will indubitably fall if anything rash were done in the next decade or two.

Indeed, in 2009, a mere 28 years after discussions began, even thinking about any treaty was called "premature":

Group B Countries, including the United States, 17 members of the European Union, Canada, Switzerland, the Holy See, and others, argued last week that consideration of any instrument to set norms for access to works by persons who are blind or have reading disabilities was “premature.”

That pretty much sums up what's happened over the last three decades: the richest - and most religious - countries joining forces year after year to kick the blind in the teeth.

Unusually - and to its credit - the UK “Intellectual Property Office” is asking for some feedback on this latest Consensus Document. Here's its introduction:

The UK has in place legislative provisions that facilitate access to copyright material for persons with print disabilities within the UK. Similar provisions are found in other EU Member States. However there are still many countries that do not have a legislative mechanism that allows access to copyright works for persons with print disabilities. Even where countries do allow for the making of accessible copies, those copies cannot be sent to a third country (they cannot be sent across borders).

Work has been underway at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to find an international solution to this problem. Discussions have focussed on two key objectives: enabling international exceptions to allow the creation of accessible works and facilitating the transfer of those works across borders. The UK as part of the European Union and its 27 member states is playing a role in these discussions at WIPO.

As this makes clear, the issue is not what happens in the UK, since there is already legislation in place that facilitates access to copyright materials. It's about emerging countries without such legislation, where access is not allowed and/or where accessible copies cannot be sent to a third countries for sharing.

In other words, what is being requested is absolutely minimal, in markets of negligible economic importance to the West; and yet the copyright industries have been deploying the full force of their influence in certain countries (but not the UK, as far as I can tell) to stymie even these modest requirements.

I therefore urge you to email the UK government at, expressing your views on this thirty-year old and continuing insult to the visually-impaired. If you want a slightly less angry background to this area than the present post, I recommend Knowledge Ecology International's sensible and grown-up comments as a good starting point. The bad news is this needs to be done today - sorry about that.

Here's my barely-controlled submission:

I applaud the fact that the Intellectual Property Office is seeking comments on the important issue of the proposed international instrument on limitations and exceptions for persons with print disabilities, because I think the key problem with the last 30 years of fruitless negotiations has been the absence of an important voice: that of the public.

Consider this thought experiment: stop a few hundred or thousand people in the street, and ask them whether they thought it was more important to allow the visually impaired to access and share copyright materials, or whether publishers' concerns about any possible - but hitherto undemonstrated - abuse should be paramount, and I would be willing to bet the vast majority would opt for the former. Indeed, whenever I have described to people what has happened during the current negotiations, the uniform response has been shock and outrage that the visually-impaired are being treated in this utterly shabby way.

The lack of input from the man and woman in the street - the people who vote for the politicians who appoint the negotiators - has allowed an air of unreality to creep into discussion. No “ordinary” person would even have the conversation about whether the visually impaired should have the rights they are seeking: it is just a basic question of humanity to grant them straight away.

On this basis, I therefore urge the UK negotiators to step back, and look at the broader picture. For thirty years, the blind and visually impaired have had obstacles placed in the way of accessing and sharing materials. Those legal obstacles are even more outrageous now that a wide range of technologies exist for making their lives a little easier.

The time has come to say: “enough”, and to sign this treaty granting all of these minimal and proportionate requests. The time has come for the UK to stand up for decency and to convince its EU partners to treat the visually impaired and blind with the compassion they deserve.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+

Go there...

copyright - Search on

Help Stop the Blind Being Kicked in the Teeth Again

I frequently cover the subject of copyright on this blog because increasingly it is impacting the lives of readers, both as individuals and as people working in companies, in an adverse way. But these problems of accessing texts, say, are...

Tags: blind, copyright, eu, treaties, visually impaired

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Michael Hart (1947 - 2011): Prophet of Abundance

I've never written an obituary before in these pages. Happily, that's because the people who are driving the new wave of openness are relatively young, and still very much alive. Sadly, one of the earliest pioneers, Michael Hart, was somewhat...

Tags: 3d printers, abundance, copyright, etexts, gnu, michael hart, openness, project guternberg, public domain, reprap, rms

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Politicians Start Getting Digital Copyright Right

As readers of this blog probably recall, the passage of the Digital Economy Act was one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the last government, pushed through as it was with minimal debate, and largely at the...

Tags: clare curran, copyright, digital economy act, enforcement, labour, new zealand

RSS Subscribe to this blog

In Praise of the World Wide Web, Openness and Sharing

As you may have gathered, the World Wide Web celebrated its 20th birthday recently, since it was publicly announced for the first time on 6 August 1991. I came to it relatively late, at the beginning of 1994, but it...

Tags: copyright, kde, linux, mysql, openness, patents, sharing, tim berners-lee, world wide web

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Reviewing the UK Government Response to the Hargreaves Review

I've written a number of columns about the Hargreaves Review, and its generally sensible ideas. But, ultimately, those proposals mean nothing if they are not accepted by the UK government and implemented. That makes today's official response particularly important. You...

Tags: copyright, enforcement, hargreaves, lobbying, orphan works, patents, piracy, uk government

RSS Subscribe to this blog

MPA gets Newzbin2 win: Now what, @EdVaizey?

Hollywood's Motion Picture Association (MPA) has won its court case that demanded BT prevent access to Newzbin2, an index of allegedly-pirated content. The MPA -- not to be confused with the MPAA -- asked the High Court to force BT to use its child-porn-blocking-proxies to also block the supposedly-piratical site. On the one hand, it's a bit worrying that the so-called "voluntary" ISP child porn filters are getting into mission-creep. On The Other Hand, if the film industry won't sell the product that consumers want to buy, is it any wonder that people become "pirates"? Plus, today's skateboarding duck: Happy Sysadmin Day...

Tags: bt, cloud computing, copyright, infrastructure, it business, law, mpa, mpaa, networking, piracy, public sector, security

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Why Are Hackers Becoming So Angry?

You may have noticed a bit of a trend recently. Groups of hackers are getting hold of stuff that has hitherto been kept locked up, and making it freely available online, much to the annoyance and embarrassment of those involved....

Tags: abundance, anonymous, copyright, digital economy act, hackers, hadopi, lulzsec, scarcity, wikileaks

RSS Subscribe to this blog

How Should We Liberate Knowledge?

Here's an interesting situation at the online academic repository JSTOR: Last fall and winter, JSTOR experienced a significant misuse of our database. A substantial portion of our publisher partners’ content was downloaded in an unauthorized fashion using the network at...

Tags: copyright, jstor, open access, project gutenberg

RSS Subscribe to this blog

French anti-piracy HADOPI says, "No fines... yet"

Does the French 'three strikes' anti-piracy law work? In France, the High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet (HADOPI) is keeping its powder dry. While it's issued almost half a million warnings, it's prosecuted nobody in its first nine months. Although it is thinking about it. On the one hand, heureuse Bastille Day, vous mangeurs de fromage de droits d'auteur contrefacteur. On The Other Hand, si j'accuser un tiers de la population, est ma loi un âne? Plus, today's skateboarding duck: The lowest score possible in Super Mario Bros?..

Tags: copyright, France, French, HADOPI, law, legal, Networking, P2P, piracy, Public sector, Security

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Out Of Tune With Community

Controversial in certain circles, the work of a loose grouping of people to create a set of standardised contributor agreements for open source projects at "Project Harmony" has reached its 1.0 milestone. At the website you'll find a release version...

Tags: Copyright, Open Source

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Movie piracy as bad as child porn, implies MPA

Hollywood's Motion Picture Association (MPA) is asking BT to prevent access to Newzbin2, an index of allegedly-pirated content. The MPA -- not to be confused with the MPAA -- is asking the High Court to force BT to use its child-porn-blocking-proxies to also block the supposedly-piratical site. On the one hand, it's hard to defend Newzbin and other curated filesharing indices as simply being like Google. On The Other Hand, it's the thin end of a worrying censorship wedge. Plus, today's skateboarding duck: CAPTCHA'd!..

Tags: BT, Cloud computing, copyright, Infrastructure, IT Business, Law, MPA, MPAA, Networking, piracy, Public sector, security

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Google in British Library scan scandal

British Library Google (GOOG) is partnering with the British Library to scan 250,000 old books, journals, and other documents. This should add greatly to the range and volume of 18th- and 19th-century public domain works available on the Web. On the one hand, it's great to see more accessible historical and cultural artifacts. On The Other Hand, Google isn't paying a cent for the privilege; so my taxes and yours are going to help Google sell advertising -- simply scandalous. Plus, today's skateboarding duck:FreddeGredde's killer Killer Queen cover...

Tags: Applications, British Library, Cloud computing, copyright, IT Business, Open Source, public domain, Public sector

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Richard O'Dwyer's US extradition copyright fight

Richard O'DwyerRichard O’Dwyer is facing extradition from the UK to the US on criminal charges of copyright infringement, related to the website On the one hand, there's an argument that the "victims" are in the US, so extradition is appropriate. On The Other Hand, what he's alleged to have done doesn't actually seem to be a crime in the US. Plus, today's skateboarding duck:Simon's Cat, in 'Hidden Treasure'...

Tags: copyright, extradition, Gary McKinnon, Law, Networking, Open Source, Public sector, Richard O’Dwyer, security, TVShack

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Good Apple, Bad Apple

Since Apple has replaced Microsoft as the leading patent-wielding cheerleader for closed-source computing, it will come as no surprise that I have no intention of providing a rapturous run-down of yesterday's wondrous announcements. But there is one aspect I'd like...

Tags: apple, cloud computing, copyright, infringement, music, piracy

RSS Subscribe to this blog

The Real Legacy of the Hargreaves Report?

Now that the dust has settled a little on the Hargreaves report, I thought it might be worth revisiting it, but looking at it from a slightly different angle. Before, I noted its sensible thoughts on software patents; there's also...

Tags: copyright, economics, hargreaves, infringement, lobbying, piracy, software patents

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Hargreaves Report: Patently Sensible Stuff

It's a measure of how central traditionally dry-as-dust subjects like copyright and patents have become to the modern (digital) world that the Hargreaves Report on the UK's “intellectual property framework” has been so eagerly awaited. That's partly because there is...

Tags: copyright, hargreaves, open source, patents, piracy, software patents

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Wormtongue's Lobbyists

As Glyn Moody discussed yesterday, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) annual report on "piracy" is out. I hate that usage - the word "piracy" refers to about the worst crime humanity is able to conceive, involving theft by intimidation,...

Tags: Copyright, Open Source

RSS Subscribe to this blog

BSA 2010 Piracy Report: Big Numbers, Big Flaws

In the digital world, it seems, there are two certainties: that every year the Business Software Alliance will put out a report that claims huge amounts of software are being “stolen”; and that the methodology employed by that report is...

Tags: bsa, copyright, developing countries, economics, intellectual monopolies, inventors, piracy

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Who Was Really Behind the Digital Economy Act?

It was just over a year ago that the Digital Economy Act was passed. Of course, the battle to stop this insanity goes on, although the recent verdict against BT and TalkTalk does not bode well. But rather than re-visit...

Tags: acta, canada, copyright, digital economy act, spain, sweden, three strikes, us, wikileaks

RSS Subscribe to this blog

Fighting the Copyright Ratchet Racket

Copyright is nominally a compact between public and creator. A government-backed, time-limited monopoly on their works is offered to artists as an incentive to create. Initially, that limited time was 14 years, renewable to 28. Since then, the period has...

Tags: copyright, european parliament, intellectual monopolies, meps, music, performance, ratchet

RSS Subscribe to this blog


No comments: