Canada Hates the Blind

May 30, 2009 at 12:02 pm 4 comments

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) held a meeting in Geneva this week, where the issue of a treaty to protect the rights of blind people and other people with disabilities regarding copyright law.

The purpose of the treaty, introduced by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay, is to permit the cross-border import/export of accessible books (like audiobooks, refreshable braille, computer generated text to speech, or books with large type), so that people with visual impairments, dyslexia, or other reading disabilities can have access to the works, which are expensive to make. Who would object to “a harmonized system of copyright exceptions that ensure that it’s possible for disabled people to get access to the written word?”

Well, Canada does, but that’s probably because America does. So does Australia, New Zealand, the Vatican and Norway.

Yup. The governments that are supposed to be representing their constituency are willing to place the interests of corporate lobbyists before the rights of disabled people.

As Cory Doctorow says,

We know that WIPO negotiations can be overwhelmed by citizen activists — that’s how we killed the Broadcast Treaty negotiation a few years back — and with your help, we can make history, and create a world where copyright law protects the public interest.

The proposed treaty is still on the agenda for the next meeting, so you have time to tell your government how disgusted you are that your voice at the meeting thinks it is appropriate to deny equal access to information for people with disabilities. Where I come from, they call that a human rights violation.

Get the word out. Is your MP sick of hearing from you yet?

Via BoingBoing.


Entry filed under: Activism, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Robert Martinengo  |  May 31, 2009 at 7:55 am

    ‘ Who would object to “a harmonized system of copyright exceptions that ensure that it’s possible for disabled people to get access to the written word?” ‘

    You might want to consider that both Canada and the US already have laws that permit production of accessible formats for the blind without permission or notification of the copyright holder (see Section 121 of US (C) Law and Section 32 of Canadian (C) law).

    These exceptions to the law were instigated and crafted with the participation of blind advocacy groups such as the CNIB in Canada and the NFB and RFB&D in the US.

    Yet, oddly, these agencies apparently did not feel it was important enough for the two countries to exchange accessible books to ensure that the laws were compatible and allowed for export/import. So much for ‘trusted intermediaries’ – the big buzzword in the proposed treaty.

    So, while you are letting your MP know how you feel about this issue, you might want to find out why the CNIB hates the blind as well. IMHO, the treaty is really designed to keep blind people dependent on government and charity agencies for their reading materials, ie, those ‘trusted intermediaries’….

    • 2. livinglime  |  May 31, 2009 at 11:59 am

      Hi Robert, the laws may be in place, but the treaty is designed to make sure that the copyright exceptions continue to be protected as new copyright laws are tabled. Can you tell me more about why you feel that the treaty is designed to keep blind people dependent on “trusted intermediaries”? Surely their very existence does not imply dependence, but rather provides a source of materials?

  • 3. Robert Martinengo  |  May 31, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Please take a look at the papers I wrote for the US Copyright Office’s inquiry, available at

    I’ll grant you that publishers as a whole are pretty clueless about how to reach print-disabled readers, but the treaty heads in the wrong direction. Now more than ever, with digital technology making equal access a real possibility, libraries for the blind need to move away from producing material themselves and find a way for publishers to take on that role. I’m not saying it will be easy, but the first rule is, money talks. The treaty says, in effect, we (‘trusted intermediaries’) are going to build a global library and copyright is just getting in our way.

    This creates a Catch-22, as in the Kindle situation. Please check out the post I wrote for Teleread:

    You know, the folks that work at agencies like the CNIB are people like anyone else, and all agencies tend to work towards their own survival – its hardly a new thought. If you consider that libraries for the blind, which produce a lot of material, are being threatened by the possibility that they may not be needed in the future, its not a big leap to see the treaty as having a side-effect of ensuring their survival by locking them in to any deals with publishers. Think about that term, ‘trusted intermediary’ – its pretty insulting when you consider it. Just who is it that can not be trusted? Obviously, the end user, ie, the blind. These agencies have positioned them selves as the spokespeople for the blind, but they are not accountable. Just ask folks at the AEBC about the CNIB – you’ll get an earful!

  • 4. Robert Martinengo  |  June 1, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    FYI, in case you didn’t believe me about the CNIB…
    “CNIB has Turned its Back on Blind Canadians, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians Charges”

    …The AEBC says the CNIB’s lack of consultation with blind Canadians, fundraising campaigns that demean their clients, and now the appointment of a sighted CEO, have left blind Canadians frustrated and in search of alternative sources of the services they need….


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