Obama's trade reps and the MPAA are killing a copyright treaty that gives rights to disabled people

Jim Fruchterman, founder of the NGO Benetech, writes in frustration from the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, where the US Trade Representative is scuttling a treaty that will help blind people and people with other disabilities access copyrighted works, largely by making the (actually rather good) US laws the standard around the world.

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 the process, they're killing a badly needed project to help people with disabilities around the world help each other to access creative works in formats that are adapted for their use.

To give you an idea of the poison pills being advocated for by the MPAA, publishers, and now the U.S. trade delegation, I've outlined the most notable ones below:

1. Commercial Availability Requirements. This poison pill says that if a book is commercially available in an accessible format, it can't be provided by a library to a person with a disability. This is equivalent to walking into a public library and finding padlocks on all the books with a note that says: "If you want to read it, buy it." With a commercial availability requirement, libraries like Bookshare, with hundreds of thousands of accessible books available to people with print disabilities, would have to go through such complex bureaucracy that we couldn't afford to serve people outside the U.S. under a Treaty. The World Blind Union's lead negotiator pointed out how these provisions would, in practice, stop Bookshare from serving blind people in India.

2. The "Three-Step Test" Chokehold. The three-step test is part of international copyright law meant to allow countries to reflect their own values in their copyright exceptions. The United States' copyright exception for the blind is a shining example of something that complies with the three-step test. So what are the negotiators trying to do? They are working to alter the very meaning of the three-step test, changing the language of the test to the point of which it will put a chokehold on a country's ability to make broader exceptions to copyrights. Which leads to #3.

3. Conflicts with American Law. Simply put--the US won't sign it. Our trade delegation is now advocating for a Treaty that would require, if ratified, the U.S. Congress to gut our model copyright exception. Essentially, the Treaty would be too poisonous for the U.S. to swallow. It's clear to everyone that if we couldn't even get the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which was pretty much identical to our own Americans with Disabilities Act, ratified by the Senate, a poisoned Treaty for the Blind has no chance of ratification.

Poisoning the Treaty for the Blind