Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Optimistic about Marrakesh Treaty!

The World Blind Union’s (WBU) Right to Read campaign for ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty just concluded two days of meetings in Berlin, Germany. The attendees were mostly the regional coordinators of the campaign, and the news was good. I found the optimism exciting: it seems like we’re moving quickly to getting twenty countries to ratify the Treaty. It even seems likely that it could happen in 2015!

A highlight of the meeting for me was going through the list of countries that have already ratified, will or probably will ratify (in WBU’s opinion), and those that possibly will ratify in 2015. The score:
  • Have ratified = 8
  • Will or Probably Will = 14
  • Possible = 17
The Treaty goes into effect three months after 20 ratifications have been formally deposited with WIPO, so it’s looking great! The hope is to be able to celebrate the milestone globally on December 10, 2015, Human Rights Day.

In North America, Canada was rated as “probable” and the USA as a “possible.” There is a fair amount of friendly competition going on to see which country ratifies first. Of course, Mexico might well beat both the USA and Canada, but Mexico is in the Latin America group at WBU.
Stevie Wonder standind behind a desk next to a panel of speakers, holding a microphone.
Stevie Wonder at the close of the Marrakesh Treaty Negotiations

The embarrassing gap during the meeting was the fact that no European countries were considered to be likely to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty in 2015. The political footballs being tossed around are about competency and sequencing: does the European Union (EU) get to sign and ratify the Treaty (exclusive competence), or do all of the countries in the EU have to ratify first (shared or mixed competence)? Also, do you need to implement the Treaty and then ratify it, or ratify it and then implement it? Countries like Germany and France, which were difficult during the Treaty negotiations, are seen as dragging their feet in these ratification efforts, arguing for shared competence and implementation first—bureaucratic obstacles that seem as if they would lose in a court case, but could drag on for years. Moreover, the UK, which is generally pro-Treaty, has political reasons to not bow to EU authority at this time.

One attendee pointed out that the cross-border sharing of content wouldn’t be of much use unless you had the USA or Europe on board: that’s where a lot of content will come from for people with print disabilities in the rest of the world. Let’s hope the USA does ratify this year (I'm certainly part of that effort)! While the meeting was going on, we heard that Spain’s government had forwarded the treaty to their parliament for ratification. While it’s not clear where this fits in the Euro-wrangles, the hope is that this development will drive the Treaty’s ratification to the next level in Spain.

Even the European mess didn’t dampen the attendees’ spirits. They are busy planning for the implementation phase of the Marrakesh Treaty, assuming it takes effect in the coming year, as well as continuing the ratification campaign well beyond reaching the twenty-country milestone.

I was able to share some of our plans at Benetech around implementing the Treaty. We’re doing a ton of work with partners in India, the first country to ratify it, to allow people in India to take full advantage of India’s now-favorable copyright environment. We also hope to lend our Bookshare online library infrastructure to developing world countries not currently able to build their own online library at this time. Additionally, we have over 200,000 copyrighted accessible book titles already available in most countries in the world.

I joke that I’m the geek advisor to the activists. However, I’m proud that the joke is true. From being on the original drafting committee of what became the Marrakesh Treaty, to being part of the negotiations, to helping convince Stevie Wonder to come to Marrakesh if there was a successful treaty (there was and he came), to helping people with print disabilities in countries all over the world gain access to the books they need for education, employment, and social inclusion—I’ve been very honored to play a small role in helping this expected revolution in accessibility.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Silicon Valley Gives to Bookshare

Tomorrow is an exciting day for our Bookshare online library for students with dyslexia or visual impairments.  We have incredibly generous matching grants from two of our dedicated tech entrepreneur supporters, Bernie Newcomb and Lata Krishnan.  Tomorrow, Tuesday May 5, 2015, is Silicon Valley Gives day, where donors from around the world will find their contributions to organizations based here matched by local donors.

We love reading, and we know how important being able to read a book is to educational and employment opportunity.  Each year, we provide more than a million books that are spoken aloud, enlarged or made into braille for students who can't pick up a print book and read it because of a disability.

We've never done a crowdfunding campaign specifically for Bookshare, and tomorrow we'll find out if some of our 350,000 users and their families are able to express their appreciation by helping match these challenge grants. And we need help: our annual federal funding from Bookshare has been flat for seven years while our users have grown by more than a factor of ten.  There are more books to be scanned, and many more people who need accessible books here in the United States and around the world.

So, please give if you can by making a donation now, or through tomorrow, on the Silicon Valley Gives to Bookshare page. The transaction costs of giving online with a credit card are much more than covered by our matching donors. Spread the word to people who care about reading, and about educational opportunity.  We want to do so much more, and with help from donors who share our dreams, we will!