Thursday, June 16, 2011

Our WIPO Statement on the Treaty for Access for People with Disabilities

Statement of Benetech to the
22nd Session of the
Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights

at the World Intellectual Property Organization
June 15, 2011, Geneva, Switzerland

• Greetings from California’s Silicon Valley! I’m a high tech engineer and the founder of Benetech, one of Silicon Valley’s leading nonprofit technology companies, dedicated to seeing that the benefits of technology help all of humanity, not just the richest 10%
• As a nonprofit charity, we focus on areas of market failure, where regular for-profit companies have decided that the market opportunity for a given product is not large enough
• One of our best-known programs is the Bookshare library, the largest online library of accessible books in the world, a library dedicated to serving the one or two percent of the population with a severe print disability
• Since I last spoke to this body less than one year ago at SCCR20, the Bookshare library has grown from serving 100,000 people with print disabilities, to over 140,000. Our collection has grown from 70,000 books to almost 110,000 books in the U.S.
• This rapid increase in our collection size has been due to extensive support from publishers: the majority of new books added to Bookshare last year and this year have been voluntarily provided to us by 130 publisher partners in the U.S., Canada, Europe and India. These include 6 of the top 10 publishers in the U.S.
• These publisher agreements have also included permissions to distribute books outside the United States: most frequently, we are provided global rights. Now, more than 30,000 current copyrighted books are available globally on Bookshare to thousands of users.
• As a result, we are increasingly working with other disability organizations in other countries to extend Bookshare’s ability to serve people with disabilities. For example, all residents with the qualifying disabilities in Australia, Denmark and Qatar, to pick just three examples, now have free access to Bookshare thanks to our joint efforts with local and national disability groups in these countries. Bookshare now has hundreds of titles in Hindi, Tamil, and Spanish, and we recently announced a partnership with the government of Qatar to develop an Arabic language service.
• Bookshare has successfully piloted an international library for the blind, but we’ve barely begun to remedy the global book famine.
• Wonderful as our licensing partnerships with publishers are, they are not enough to make accessible most of the books that people with disabilities need to have equal access to education, employment and social inclusion.
• In the United States, like a number of countries, we have a copyright exception that allows our organization to make accessible versions of the books our disabled patrons need. We have spent years making arrangements with 130 exceptionally responsible publishers, but our copyright exception has allowed us to make books available from thousands of publishers. We think this exception has worked extraordinarily well in the U.S.: helping people with disabilities while not hurting, and almost certainly helping, authors and publishers
• This is why we are in strong support of the World Blind Union’s advocacy and many nations’ support for a global treaty to help people with print disabilities. We would like to see a global norm comparable to the system that has worked so well in the U.S. extended to help all people with print disabilities in the world who need it. Thank you!

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