WIPO Treaty Sees Entertainment Industry Pitted Against the Disabled

A treaty is currently being discussed within WIPO that would allow those with disabilities to have better access to copyrighted material. Apparently, the only thing the entertainment industry sees when it comes to the disabled having access to copyrighted material is the dismantling of copyright.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The entertainment industry has a long history of saying that tightening copyright laws is only meant to stem the flow of pirated material and to foster innovation. Many who observe the copyright debate simply see the opposite where tighter copyright regimes simply makes pirates of more and more customers and stem innovation instead of foster it – save for fostering innovation that thwart anti-piracy measures. If anyone wanted a fresh example on how copyright laws harm consumers, they may want to take a look at recent developments at WIPO.

KEI online has posted a statement made in the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights.

The statement begins, “The United States is proud to have a series of specific exceptions and limitations in our copyright law, including for education, libraries, and persons with print disabilities.”

The statement continued, “The law of the United States has these exceptions because we believe access to information, cultural expression, and ideas is essential and we know that governments have a role to play in facilitating that access and reducing barriers to information, education and full participation in a democratic society. So while the United States believes profoundly, in the words of our Supreme Court, that copyright law is “the engine of free expression,” we are also committed to policies that ensure everyone has a chance to get the information and education they need and to live independently as full citizens in their communities.”

That and other things being discussed related to this, amazingly enough, did not sit well with the entertainment industry. Wired’s Threat Level found the following excerpt in response to the proposal from the US Chamber of Commerce:

The treaty also creates a bad precedent by loosening copyright restrictions, instead of tightening them as every previous copyright treaty has done, said Brad Huther, a chamber director. Huther concluded in a Dec. 2 letter to the U.S. Copyright office that the international community “should not engage in pursuing a copyright-exemption based paradigm.”

That was only the beginning. The MPAA also came out swinging saying, “among the strategies least likely to advance the goal of increased access by the blind and visually impaired is the path down which the draft treaty points: to begin to dismantle the existing global treaty structure of copyright law, through the adoption of an international instrument at odds with existing, longstanding and well-settled norms.”

Microsoft commented, “a witness for the motion picture industry demonstrated technology that they are developing voluntarily to make audiovisual works more accessible to the visually impaired. That activity is occurring without any explicit exemption in U.S. copyright law.”

The National Public Radio had this to say as well, “Exempting uses of copyrighted works to facilitate access to such works requires careful consideration, but it need not impair the reasonable interests and expectations of copyright owners, and it is an objective of profound importance.”

More comments can be found on the KEIOnline.

If the entertainment industry were going to allow the disabled access to copyrighted works, what’s the point of opposing a treaty that would allow the disabled to have access to copyrighted works anyway?

Apparently, the Obama Administration is stepping in to support the disabled. From Threat Level:

“We recognize that some in the international copyright community believe that any international consensus on substantive limitations and exceptions to copyright law would weaken international copyright law,” Justin Hughes, a Department of Commerce senior adviser, told the WIPO on Tuesday. “The United States does not share that point of view.”

But the administration was careful Tuesday not to alienate U.S. industry even as it supported the blind and visually impaired. For example, Hughes acknowledged that the government was willing to strengthen international copyright laws in other regards.

“The United States is committed to both better exceptions in copyright law and better enforcement of copyright law,” Hughes said. “Indeed, as we work with countries to establish consensus on proper, basic exceptions within copyright law, we will ask countries to work with us to improve the enforcement of copyright. This is part and parcel of a balanced international system of intellectual property.”

That, suggests Threat Level, may be in reference to an earlier leaked document that suggests that the Obama administration could support a three-strikes policy in the United States on the completion of ACTA negotiations.

It seems strange that the entertainment industry would decide to pick a fight with the disabled in the first place. How much could the entertainment industry gain from it in the first place anyway? What this really is is just another example how strict copyright laws really do hurt consumer interests in many different ways.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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