Cory Doctorow is reporting that Australia is part of a group of countries that are opposing a treaty that would ensure that people with a print disability have greater access to published copyright material.

The draft treaty (MS Doc; Google cache here) includes several important clauses, including:

  • an exception to copyright infringement for non-profit supply of accessible versions of works to which a person with a print disability already has access in a non-accessible form;
  • a statutory licence for reasonable for-profit supply;
  • an exception to anti-circumvention law to allow blind persons to break technological locks that make the work inaccessible; and
  • most importantly, an exception that allows importing and exporting of accessible versions of copyright works, enabling them to be distributed to blind people in other countries.

Please help us ensure that people with a print disability have access to published copyright material in an accessible form by raising awareness and contacting the Attorney-General's Department.

This is an important proposal before WIPO, and has the support of the World Blind Union as well as many other NGOs. Whilst some of the goals of the treaty may be implemented at a national level, WIPO support means that signatories will be prompted to amend their laws much quicker. WIPO support is also likely to be required in order to introduce the import/export exception, which is likely to significantly reduce the very significant overheads that countries face in digitising books and creating accessible versions of works.

Australia forms part of Group B, which opposes the treaty, and includes the US, Canada, New Zealand, the Vatican and Norway in opposing the treaty. We have not seen an official statement by the Attorney-General's Department on whether Australia supports the treaty or not. We can hope that Australia is able to lead the way in expressing support and lobbying other countries in Group B to support the proposed treaty. The AGD has reportedly said that it will hold public consultations on the treaty - now is the time to write and ensure that our representatives know that Australians want improved access for blind people and those with other reading disabilities.

Cory Doctorow has asked us to

reblog, tweet, and spread the word, especially to government officials and activists who work on disabled rights. 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.

Accordingly, please take the time to write to the Attorney-General's Department and express your support for greater access to published material for people with a print disability. We at EFA strongly believe that it is simply not acceptable that blind people are denied access to published material to any greater extent than sighted people. The treaty that is being proposed greatly simplifies the responsibilities of countries worldwide to remove barriers to access for blind people and proposes to introduce a new exception making it easier for accessible copies of books to be distributed to where they are needed.

I, along with my colleagues Paul Harpur and Dilan Thampapillai, have previously written about the difficulty that blind users have accessing copyright material in Australia. Paul Harpur has been diligently following up this work with further research on how Australian universities can help blind students by providing clear text copies of printed material. In the paper we published, we noted the complicated and limited nature of Australia's statutory licence and limited exceptions in favour of people with print disabilities. We argued for the establishment either of a government funded digital repository or for the creation of an exception in Australian copyright law to allow markets to provide accessible formats of works where publishers refused to do so. EFA reiterated these sentiments in our submission to the Digital Economy Future Directions paper.

More on Twitter: #sccr18.
Thanks to Gwen Hinze and the folks at the EFF for continuing to apply pressure for reading accessibility. See further: Reading Rights Coalition and Knowledge Economy International.


  1. Pingback: Creative Commons Through the Looking Glass » Proposed WIPO Exceptions for disability illustrate the copyright divide

  2. Consider sending a letter to Bill Shorten, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services. He has a webform on his main APH webpage:

    Comment by Jan Whitaker on 2 June 2009 at 00:52
  3. After careful reading it turns out that draft treaty ONLY includes blind people. It does NOT include other print disabled people such as those unable to physically hold a book, or those with severe dyslexic like syndromes who can't read because of their specific learning disability.

    There are five print disabled people in my family, including myself, and I've been on the information access committee for Vision Australia and I have to say I wouldn't want that to be passe "as is". If they amended every place it says "blind" or "vision impaired" to say "print disabled" and made sure the definition of "print disabled" was essentially the same as the one currently in use in Australian copyright law (which does include sighted print disabled as described above) then I would support it but I wouldn't support the current draft.

    Comment by Ricky Buchanan on 20 June 2009 at 07:32
  4. I completely agree Ricky. I can't even be certain that print disabled is generic enough to cover everybody that could need an exemption.

    On the other side of things, I also think that the infringement should only be allowable if no reasonable alternative, which provides a similar level of convince, is available.

    Comment by Gerry on 26 June 2009 at 00:04
  5. glivitierrupe

    Comment by liemaceseelup on 4 September 2009 at 00:42