Posted by & filed under Pirates & Politics. 4 comments

This is a call to arms, TUEBLovers! The next ten days are crucial in the battle for access to creative and cultural material. Today in Morocco, representatives from over a hundred countries are meeting to discuss a treaty to improve blind and visually impaired individuals’ access to books.

Fantastic, right?

Can you imagine, fellow bookworms, if your vast library of beloved books were cut down to just a few, and if even though the technology existed to give you the ability to read the entire library, that laws were enacted to prevent it?

Yeah, that’s intellectual property law for you.

The Washington Post articulates the startling reality:

“Only about five percent of books are converted into formats that the blind community can use… That dearth of material not only keeps blind people from reading popular books but also from getting access to educational texts and other professional literature.”


FIVE! And to think that there is no physical reason why, in the twenty first century anyone should be shut out of so much of the world’s reading material. We have the technological capability to remove the restriction of a person’s disability and allow everyone access to books, in whatever format they can use. And yet – five percent!

Fortunately, people are mad.

And diplomats from all around the world are convening to do something about it.

It is hard to imagine that anyone could in good conscience oppose this step. Of course, it’s also hard to imagine how we could have gotten into this situation in the first place, and yet here we are. The Whitehouse, for one, has stopped vocalizing support for the treaty (gee thanks, land of opportunity) and rightsholders all over seem to be shitting themselves in fear over what will happen if blind people are allowed to read like everyone else.

But more insidious than any outright opposition to the treaty is the suspicious support it’s gotten from certain parties. The MPAA for example. Yeah the MPAA – aka. the biggest copyright trolls ever. The MPAA supporting people’s rights to access material? Horray! Maybe they’ve seen the light!

Uh huh.


Cory Doctorow explains their deceptively altruistic move to support the international treaty:

Rather than promoting the US approach — which allows for the creation of works in accessible formats without permission — the US Trade Rep and his friends from the MPAA are advocating for a treaty that is far more restrictive than US law, ensuring that the US itself could never sign it.

In other words, in supporting the treaty, they appear to care about the plight of disabled individuals, while simultaneously using their support and influence to render the treaty useless.

Nice. Thanks, MPAA.

Chris Danielsen of the National Federation for the Blind, has this to say, and I think we – and every single diplomat at this conference – should listen to him:

So please, TUEBLovers! Even if you’re not a diplomat with a spot at this conference, you can still speak up. Sign the petition. Make noise. Spread the word. Bitch about it. Tell everyone. Let the world know that you’re NOT okay with anyone being denied the ability to read!

The conference plenary sessions will be streamed live and it looks like videos of the sessions will continue to be available for reference later. I will do my best to watch as much as I can and spread the word. So if you don’t have time to watch a conference on the other side of the world, follow me on twitter and keep your eyes on this blog for updates!

4 Responses to “Call to arms TUEBLovers! Diplomatic Conference on Allowing Books to be Accessible to the Blind starts TODAY”

  1. robert

    I know this looks like classic little guy vs. corporate giant, but think about it. The real barrier here isnt copyright, its $. The US has had a copyright exception since 1996 and it hasnt ended the ‘book famine’ here, nor will a treaty end it for the rest of the world. The only way the famine will end is when all publishers – cool pirates like y’all and corporate copyright types too – dump restrictive DRM. Equal access must happen in the market as well as in more piratical territory.

    • AeliusBlythe

      Dropping DRM is absolutely essential. Definitely. An international treaty certainly isn’t indicative of tangible, real world change. I only hope that it can be is a symbolic statement for readers’ rights, and, in future, perhaps a precedent for challenging copyright’s ironclad grip.

  2. robert

    The idea of using a treaty to ‘solve’ the book famine is bass-ackwards. If you read it carefully, the treaty doesnt really obligate anyone to DO anything. The US has had a copyright exception in place for 17 years, so why are there still inaccessible books? You could say its because the ‘authorized entities’ who can produce books without permission under Section 121 do not have sufficient funds. Well, the majority of their funding comes from the federal government already, and its not likely they will get a whole lot more. So now what?

    A copyright exception is not an assertion of rights – its the opposite. Rosa Parks didnt say she wanted a separate bus, she wanted to sit freely on the same bus as everyone else. The treaty is a ‘separate bus’ solution which will only lead to further discrimination down the line. Separate is not equal.

    • AeliusBlythe

      Of course the treaty doesn’t obligate anyone to do anything – it’s the high-minded, symbolic rhetoric of international relations. But rhetoric – bringing ideas to the table, drawing attention to problems & resolving to work towards solutions – precedes action.

      Only 57 countries of the 186 that are at this conference have accessibility exceptions to copyright law, and those that do still face import/export challenges. It is clear that access is still limited, and that to even begin to address it, the solution must be international.

      Clearly, the continued book famine in the United States, despite existing exceptions, shows there needs to be more work done. Of course there needs to be more work! Copyright needs more work. Libraries need more work. Education, textbook distributors, publishers……. we have a long, long way to go.

      There already is a separate bus.

      Physical, financial, and legal limits currently force the blind & visually impaired into a second-class situation. Of course, funding absolutely is problematic – when is it ever not? – but we do no one any favors by refusing one group access that everyone else already has. That is segregation.



  1.  Frustration – and VICTORY – at WIPO | Cheapass Fiction - Welcome to the free world of fiction.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)