WIPO Negotiations Treaty For Blind People

WORLD BLIND UNION (WBU) press release 18 December 2012

Press Release – WIPO Negotiations Treaty for Blind people


WIPO member states call for treaty for blind people to be finished in 2013

Geneva, 18.12.2012 – UN negotiation on groundbreaking World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) treaty for blind people looks set to end in 2013


After more than four years of intensive negotiations, WIPO member states today made the ground-breaking decision to convene a diplomatic conference to conclude a treaty for visually impaired and print disabled people in June 2013.


There are some 285 million blind and partially sighted people in the world. Like everyone else, blind people need books they can read for education, pleasure and inclusion in society. They want to read the same books as others, from Harry Potter to legal manuals, but to do so they need those books converted into “accessible formats” such as audio, braille or large print.


The problem is, most books published are never produced in these formats, and the some 1-7% which are available are produced by small charities. Furthermore, in many countries copyright law prevents these organisations from making accessible copies of the books, and from sending them to others in countries speaking the same language, thereby maximising their small resources.


The WIPO treaty sought by the World Blind Union would remove these copyright barriers and open up a new world of reading to blind people.

The one significant negotiating party still to have failed to formally back a treaty in the negotiations, the USA, stated at the EGA that it supported a diplomatic conference in 2013 to produce a “legally-binding agreement”. Though WBU would prefer to hear the word “treaty”, we note that a treaty is a “legally binding agreement” and trust that the USA will work to agree a treaty in 2013.


Maryanne Diamond, leader of the WBU right to read campaign, commented:

“The decision of the WIPO Extraordinary General Assembly today is a very significant milestone on the road to a treaty. It means governments have kept the work on track to agree a binding and effective treaty in 2013, which if completed would allow blind people to access many thousands more books. The work is far from over, though. We urge all parties to now negotiate a simple, binding and effective treaty. A good treaty will really help us to end the book famine in which only some one to seven percent of books are ever made accessible to us.”


Rahul Cherian, from Indian WBU member Inclusive Planet, said:

“The objective of this treaty must be that of helping blind and print disabled people to get accessible format books, especially in developing countries. To achieve this goal, it must be workable and simply worded so that blind and print disabled people and their organisations can use it to really make a difference.


An end to the “book famine”

Even in 2012, blind people and others living with a print disability such as those with dyslexia still have very limited access to books. Only some 7% of published books are ever made accessible (in formats such as Braille, audio and large print) in the richest countries, and less than 1% in poorer ones. This is a “book famine”.

An international treaty for blind people

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) makes treaties and other international laws on copyright

Back in 2009 the World Blind Union, Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay proposed a WIPO treaty to help relieve the book famine in which fewer than 1% of books are published accessibly in developing countries, and only some 7% in the most developed.

Briefly, the new treaty would:

Allow specialist organisations to make accessible copies of books in all signatory countries
Make it legal to send accessible books across national borders
Still respect copyright law: it is not an attack on publishers!
Make more books available for blind people


About WBU

The World Blind Union (WBU) is the internationally recognized organization, representing the 285 million blind and partially sighted persons in 190 member countries. We are the Voice of the Blind, speaking to governments and international bodies on issues concerning blindness and visual impairments in conjunction with our members. For further information, please visit:




Maryanne Diamond, Chair, WBU right to read campaign
+61 419312129

Dan Pescod, Vice Chair, WBU right to read campaign
+44 207 391 2009







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