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Owen helps conclude treaty on library access for visually impaired

Victoria Owen (left) at the conference in Marrakesh, Morocco (photo by Jim Fruchterman)

UTSC Chief Librarian Victoria Owen represented the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) at a Diplomatic Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco in June. The conference, organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and its partners, sought to conclude a treaty that would increase access to published works by visually impaired persons. Back from the conference, Victoria shares her insights on the motives and accomplishments of the conference.

Why such a conference?

The Diplomatic Conference was called to negotiate at treaty to establish a minimum international standard for exceptions and limitations to copyright for producing materials in alternate format. Each country has its own copyright laws, which results in patchwork different exceptions making it difficult to share materials across the borders, for visually impaired people.

What are the aims and objectives of this treaty?

The treaty allows authorized entities to produce materials in alternate formats for use by people who are blind or print disabled without permission from the rightsholder. The treaty also allows for cross-border exchange of materials and if required for access, the circumvention of technological protection measures.

What is the IFLA’s position in these discussions?

The IFLA is a strong advocate of the treaty. We believe libraries play a significant role in creating and distributing alternate format materials and in providing access to information to all members of our communities regardless of format.

 What were the outcomes?

This conference was an enormous success. A workable treaty was negotiated and once implemented around the world it will provide a level of certainty to libraries and end users in production and access to alternate format materials. Having more materials available and having barrier-free cross border exchange provides more equitable access for people who require works in alternate formats such as Braille, electronic formats, and audio books.

The treaty will also help reduce financial barriers by allowing libraries and other institutions or individuals to create and lend materials across borders. Previously many institutions created the same popular title over and over again. A good illustration of this problem is found with the Harry Potter books. National institutions the world over created the same title for the domestic audience. With the treaty, only one institution need create each title, which can then be loaned across borders. It is important to note that this is the first treaty for exceptions and limitations to copyright; all previous treaties extended the rights of the copyright owners.  

Read Victoria’s full statement at the conference here

Full text of the treaty adopted as adopted at the conference can be read here




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