In 2013, millions of visually impaired people worldwide may be given the prospect of gaining easier access to copyrighted published works.
This is a goal of the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCRR), which recently held meetings to discuss and decide how to take this issue forward. WIPO's General Assembly planned a December meeting to assess progress on an agreed text and to decide whether to set up a diplomatic conference in 2013 to consider the next steps.
The standing committee's aim is to produce an international instrument that sets out limitations and exceptions for visually impaired people who have difficulty reading the printed word, according to a WIPO copyright law specialist. The specialist says WIPO also has a voluntary stakeholder's committee, which looks at the practical aspects of increasing the availability of printed works to the visually impaired through accessible formats.
The official says it's difficult to assess the impact that this will have on copyright holders if an agreement is decided: "The existing limitations and exceptions for the benefit of the visually impaired/print disabled in over 80 countries operate in a variety of ways, and there are also licensing models that provide access to copyrighted works for the blind and visually impaired." Ironically, it has been nearly 3 years since the SCCRR reported it would "accelerate the work on copyright exceptions and limitations for the benefit of persons with reading disabilities."
More Buzz About Orphan Works
European governments now have 2 years to decide whether to put a directive on orphan works into effect; the directive was recently passed by the European Council, a body that comprises member countries' heads of state and senior European Union (EU) and European Commission figures.
A council statement notes that the directive would be implemented before the end of the year and applies to public and academic libraries, archives, museums, film and audio institutions, and public service broadcasters. Once governments have transposed the directive into national law, these bodies will have the green light to digitize orphan works from the following categories, providing they follow the measure's conditions: printed works such as books and newspapers, cinematographic and audiovisual works, phonograms, works embedded in others works (e.g., book illustrations), and unpublished material such as letters.
The British Library Weighs In
About 40% of The British Library's (BL) 150 million works have orphan status. Ben White, head of intellectual property at the BL, says, "I certainly believe that once the directive is transposed into member state laws, the directive will help European cultural establishments digitize discrete parts of their collections. Given that the directive requires a diligent search of each and every item, to what extent the directive will aid larger projects is however debatable."
The directive sets out rules on identifying orphan works. The rules state that bodies wishing to digitize such material must conduct diligent searches to identify copyright holders using databases and registries. If searches don't yield the copyright holder's identity and location, then the material concerned can be designated as an orphan work and recognized across the EU.
Organizations will then be free to exploit such works commercially via partnerships with commercial organizations, for example, with some of the revenue raised going toward covering the cost of the orphan works' research and recognition process.
Michel Barnier, internal market and services commissioner, noted in a statement that the directive "is a significant achievement in our efforts to create a digital market" and is "one more step in making licensing and online access to cultural content easier."