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article imageStevie Wonder backs new copyright treaty for visually impaired

By Robert Myles     Jun 27, 2013 in Entertainment
Stevie Wonder, last week lent his weight to an appeal to more than 600 delegates gathered at a United Nations forum in North Africa urging them to conclude a new copyright treaty that would liberalise copyrighted works for the blind and visually impaired.
In his own words, Stevie Wonder, called on delegates “Let’s get this ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered (and) I’m Yours’,” urging a UN forum in Marrakesh, Morocco to finalize a new global treaty to provide greater access to books for the blind, the visually impaired and other print disabled people. As a bonus, the singer/composer, who has been blind since shortly after birth, promised to travel to Morocco and celebrate in person when an agreement was reached.
The occasion was a conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to discuss a new treaty to improve access to published works in Braille, large text print and audio books. The blind, visually impaired and print disabled would benefit from better access to novels, textbooks and other material, not just opening up opportunities for greater enjoyment but also affording them a broader range of life opportunities in the fields of training and employment.
Alleviating the book famine
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said the aim of the conference was “to alleviate the book famine that causes over 300 million visually impaired persons, the majority of them in developing countries, to be excluded from access to over 90 per cent of published works.”
Wonder has long-time campaigned for a new treaty to open up the treasure chest of published works that has for so long remained locked for the blind and visually impaired. In 2010, he made an emotional appeal to negotiators to accelerate a move “to end the information deprivation that continues to keep the visually impaired in the dark,” urging negotiators to put ideological differences aside.
Now, with a new international treaty in prospect, Wonder said, “We stand at the cusp of a momentous time in history. All of you – great minds representing governments around the world – have the opportunity to right a wrong. You are in the final sprint of a marathon that has spanned many years, but time is short and there is still much more work to be done to complete this historic treaty.”
A treaty would establish a legal framework that would facilitate the production of accessible formats and the exchange of them across borders, bringing to fruition negotiations that have been ongoing since May 2009.
For the blind and visually impaired, a treaty can’t come soon enough. In 2006 a WIPO survey found that fewer than 60 countries “had limitations and exceptions clauses in their national copyright laws making special provision for visually impaired persons, for example, for Braille, large print or digitized audio versions of copyrighted texts.”
In his latest video appeal, Wonder, whose recording career has seen him garner 49 top 40 hits, 32 No. 1 singles and more than 100 million unit sales, urged WIPO delegates to seize the moment: “The time has come. Today. Not tomorrow. Today. The world’s blind and visually impaired are counting on you. I am counting on you. Don’t let me down. But most of all, please don’t let them down. This is our legacy. Your gift to future generations. So let us at last finalize this new agreement and open the doors to the world’s written treasures, moving toward a future where there are no barriers to the expansion of knowledge and the enjoyment of culture. Even for the visually impaired.”
The two week long Diplomatic Conference to Conclude a Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities is scheduled to conclude June 28.
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