Administration Went From Supporting Copyright Exceptions For The Blind… To Working To Block Them
from the there-can-be-no-copyright-exceptions-whatsoever dept
For a long time now, there’s been an effort underway to craft important copyright exceptions for the visually impaired, which would do things like give them the right to convert a written work into an audio work through text-to-speech software. While it seems like this should be allowed (after all, isn’t reading a book out loud legal under copyright law?) some have claimed that such text-to-speech efforts violate copyright law. There are some other areas, too, where copyright law makes life more difficult for the blind. To deal with this WIPO has been discussing a treaty that would create some copyright exceptions for these specific cases. Not surprisingly, the entertainment industry came out very strongly against helping the blind with such a treaty, as they fear any effort to add more exceptions to copyright law, even if it means the blind are more likely to consume their products.
Late last year, the Obama administration surprised a lot of us by going against the entertainment industry’s wishes, and saying it actually supported the treaty’s exceptions for the blind. I later heard from some folks who were a part of those discussions, who said it was actually a pretty heated battle among different camps within the administration to get it to support such a minor exception to copyright law, as the “usual suspects” were putting a lot of pressure on the administration to hold the line against any copyright exceptions.
Frankly, it still amazes me that anyone could be against a treaty designed to help the visually impaired from accessing more works.
However, apparently there were some negotiations in Geneva this week about this particular treaty, and all that stuff from last year about the administration supporting it may have been nothing more than window dressing. Jamie Love — who has played a role in trying to move this treaty effort forward — recently reported from the meeting that the US delegation appeared to do a lot more to block progress on this treaty than to move it forward:
Today a UN body is trying to reach an agreement on work on copyright exceptions for persons who are blind or have other disabilities. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is aggressively trying to block adoption of a work program that would include the possibility of a treaty. Officially, the USPTO is proposing an alternative approach that could be a step toward a treaty. Privately, the USPTO and other federal agencies are putting enormous pressure on countries to abandon a binding treaty in favor of a very weak and even harmful resolution.
Love quotes Justin Hughes from the USPTO threatening to a consumer rights organization that supports the proposal that he was going to “make your lives miserable.” This would be the same Justin Hughes who was the source of the quotes a few months ago saying that the administration was all for these exceptions:
“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.”
Apparently, that was then. This is now. Back at the time, Hughes had implied that this was really a horse trade. The Obama administration would support these exceptions for the blind, but, in response would put its weight behind ACTA. That’s the subtext of the following quotes:
“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.”
So, with ACTA negotiations about to kickoff, it looks like the US has decided to focus just on “enforcement” and has given up any serious concern for “exceptions.” Balance? Feels like someone’s fingers are pushing down that scale entirely to one side. When was the last time that an administration actually was interesting in keeping the other side of copyright law equally balanced?