Is Canada trying to block a WIPO treaty for blind people's access to written material?

As the headline suggests I've become skeptical of the wide reporting of Canada's involvement in trying to stop a WIPO treaty that would facilitate grater access for blind people to written material. I had read this many times, but when I heard Jesse Brown mention in the June 1'st episode of his podcast that he tried to get an interview with Bruce Couchman and that Bruce never got back to him. Since I have met Bruce many times I decided to send a letter to Bruce and to Jesse about this issue. While Bruce got back to me right away and has been sending multiple messages on this issue since, Jesse Brown hasn't yet acknowledged receipt of the material I have sent him. Bruce was unaware of an interview request, so there may be problems with Jesse's email/etc.

While I hope that a professional journalist like Jesse will cover this issue, I'll do my best to let people know what Bruce has been sending me. My hope is that Jesse will see this, carry out the interview which Bruce seems willing to offer if requested, and possibly set the record straight.

Bruce indicated that Canada was neutral on whether a treaty should move forward, and did not understand how anyone could misinterpret what was actually said as opposition. I've tried to trace back links to indicate opposition, and nearly everything seems to eventually link back to comments by James Love. I will be interested to see if anyone else finds it ironic that Jesse mentioned this issue at the very end of a podcast on how the Conference Board of Canada came to invalid conclusions by relying on what effectively amounted to a single source for their report.

A few things were sent by Bruce which I think others should read and form their own opinions.

My own opinion on this issue come from board principles. While I believe this specific treaty should move forward, I think this is only the first step to fixing a number of policy problems at WIPO.

  • Limits and exceptions to copyright should have the same level of enforcement in WIPO treaties as other aspects of copyright. If WIPO is to be seen as having any legitimacy beyond supporting a few special economic interests, times where a WIPO treaty sets a "minimum" level of copyright protection it should also articulate a "maximum".
  • "Any 'hardware assist' for communications, whether it be eye-glasses, VCR's, or personal computers, must be under the control of the citizen and not a third party" (See my homepage). While not specifically mentioned, this obviously includes screen readers (or any other technology that reads out loud), or any other technology used by citizens to enhance or augment their senses in order to access copyrighted work. I do not believe that copyright holders have any legitimate interests in this area, and copyright should be limited to ensure it never restricts this hardware assistance.
  • Trusted intermediaries should be legally allowed to "step into the shoes" of citizens who are not able to exercise their rights on their own. This in my mind applies equally to teachers exercising "fair dealing" on behalf of students, librarians on behalf of their patrons (already confirmed by the Supreme Court), or the CNIB exercising limits and exceptions on behalf of the blind
  • Compulsory licensing, exceptions, or copyright reversion (IE: back to human creator if current copyright holder does not exploit) should be employed in situations where copyright holders refuse or no longer license works. This to me applies to the antiquated concept of "out of print" books (representing far more printed material than commercially exploited), as well as for the production of accessible versions in situations where appropriate citizen controlled hardware assistance is not viable.

While listening to the audio from the July 13'th meeting I heard some pretty familiar things. My own summary of the meeting would be as follows.

  • Representative of the blind: We want equal access to copyrighted works in ways that do not harm the legitimate rights of copyright holders.
  • Representative of publishers: Copyright and copyright holders are not villains. They demand there be no copyright exceptions, and market based approaches should be used
  • Representative of Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium: Technology exists today, we just need to get the social/legal aspects in line (Note: DAISY has Microsoft involvement. I am sceptical any time Microsoft is mentioned in the context of a "standard" given their history has always been to create vendor-dependent technology solutions, contradicting my second principle)
  • Representative of Canada: Canadian law may be a good model to follow (See section 32 of the Canadian Copyright Act). Canada willing to engage further on this issue

The most telling moment comes in the discussion from the floor when a delegate brought up the issue of an eBook reader (Amazon Kindle) where the book publishers blocked the "read out loud" function. The representative of the book publishers said the issue was that Amazon had not yet cleared the rights for that functionality, suggesting it related in some mysterious way to audio books.

My question is this: what legitimate rights exist that should need to be cleared? I don't believe there are any, and my hope is that eventually WIPO will rise to the task of creating international instruments that carve the copyright holder out of any hardware assistance that citizens use to access legitimately purchased content. We should not require permission from copyright holders to have a book read out loud to us, whether that be electronically or by family/friends.

In this venue and in others I have heard representatives of the book publishing industry oppose all of my own principles I articulated above. It is amusing that someone who started his speech suggesting that the ideas and people he represents shouldn't be seen as the villains had his last words about an issue where the publishers clearly are the villains.

SUMMARY of WIPO SCCR 18, May, 25-29, 2009

The first day of the meeting (May 25) was an information meeting on developments in broadcasting.
For the presentations go to:

The substantive SCCR meeting started on May 26.
The documents related to that meeting may be found at:

Of particular importance are the Conclusions:
(Currently available only in English but check website for future translation)

the draft treaty on the visually impaired submitted by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay:
[Provisional French translation]

and the Interim Report of the Stakeholders' Platform:

Also of relevance is the WIPO press release "SCCR to Expedite Work in Favour of the Reading Impaired" summarizing the meeting

The three substantive issues discussed at the meeting were:
(1) limitations and exceptions (especially access by the reading impaired to copyright material),
(2) protection of audiovisual performances, and
(3) protection of broadcasting organizations.
The Canadian delegation made two interventions at the meeting, one on access by the visually impaired to copyright works (on May 27) and the other the proposed treaty on broadcasters' rights (on May 28).
The substantive discussion on access by the visually impaired focussed primarily on the Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay draft treaty.
The Canadian intervention on this issue included the following elements:
1) It noted that it would be premature for the Canadian delegation to comment specifically on the Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay draft treaty (given that it was introduced during the meeting).
2) It said that any instrument should allow a variety of mechanisms for the production of accessible copies for domestic purposes, e.g. an exception, a compulsory licence or a conditional exception.
3) It expressed general principles that should feature in any eventual solution. The principles expressed were intended to apply regardless of the type of instrument (i.e. binding or non-binding) which might be adopted.
4) It noted that countries should be allowed to have different types of limitations or exceptions with respect to different types of adapted materials.
(Note: for example, a country might have an exception to produce Braille material but a compulsory licence to produce audiobooks.)
5) It noted that it is not necessary to have a uniform rule in all countries to allow the international exchange of adapted materials.
6) It noted that it would be necessary to discuss the norms which would apply to the exchange of materials among countries which have different limitations or exceptions for the production of adapted material.
(Note: for example the export of an adapted copy made under an exception to a country which used a compulsory licence.)
7) It noted that any instrument should facilitate the international exchange of adapted material.
8) It would be necessary to clarify how the three step test for limitations and exceptions applies to the import and export of material made under a limitation or exception.

The Conclusion on Access by the Visually Impaired.
This issue will remain on the agenda for the next meeting.  The proposed draft treaty along with any other possible proposals or contributions will be further discussed at that time.
Other Issues Related to Limitations and Exceptions
The study on limitations and exceptions for the benefit of educational activities is expected to be available before the 19th session of the SCCR. (See the Conclusions)

The Draft Questionnaire on Limitations and Exceptions
The Committee took note of the draft questionnaire on limitations and exceptions and invited delegations to send any comments by July 15.  The next draft of the questionnaire will be distributed one month before the next session of the SCCR with a view to finalizing it at that meeting.
The draft questionnaire is at:

Protection of Audiovisual Performances
There was a diplomatic conference on the protection of audiovisual performances in December 2000 but it failed to come to a conclusion.
Information on the diplomatic conference may be found at:

The key paragraphs from the Conclusions on this issue are:
"The Committee requested the Secretariat to prepare a background document on the main questions and positions.
"The Committee requested the Secretariat to organize, in Geneva, informal, open-ended consultations among all members of the Committee on possible solutions to the current deadlock."

Protection of Broadcasting Organizations
The Canadian delegation made an intervention on this issue. 
It said that it favoured Option B in the Chair's informal paper of November 3, 2008
It said that it maintained its position that countries should be allowed to permit the retransmission of free over-the-air signals within their territory subject to certain conditions.
The limitations which the Canadian delegation has proposed on retransmission may be found in document SCCR/S2/3 (June 18, 2007)

It also said that it might eventually be desirable to consider other options which are not in the Chair's Informal Paper.
The following is the relevant part of the Chair's Informal Paper:
"The following two options arise from the assessment above in this informal paper:
"A – A continuation of the process
Another try could still be suggested on the basis of the document SCCR/15/2 rev.   In addition, discussions could be based on informal papers. This endeavor should be open, inclusive and flexible. In the end, there could be an understanding that a new treaty might be established by a clear majority.
"B – A possible new avenue
A model based roughly on Articles 2 and 3 of the Geneva Phonograms Convention of 1971 could be envisaged;  similar to that of the Brussels Satellite Convention.
That model is different from those included so far in the working documents of the SCCR.
That model could achieve the main objective of an international protection and the prevention of signal theft.
To provide the delegations with an idea of the structure of such an option, its core provisions might be as follows:
“The Contracting Parties shall protect broadcasting and cablecasting organizations, who are nationals of other Contracting Parties, against unauthorized acts, including:
- retransmission
- fixation
- [other acts that might be agreed on].
The means by which this Treaty is implemented shall be a matter for the domestic law of each Contracting Party.  The means shall be adequate and effective, and shall include one or more of the following:
- protection by means of copyright, rights related to copyright, or other specific rights;
- protection by means of the law relating to unfair competition or misappropriation;
- protection by means of administrative legislation or penal sanctions.” "
Conclusion on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations
This issue will remain on the agenda for the next meeting.

Next Session of the WIPO SCCR

No date was set for the next meeting of the SCCR.