WIPO Seeks to Improve Access to the Visually Impaired by Undermining Copyright Laws

On June 28th in Marrakesh, Morocco the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) signed an international treaty improving access to books and other published materials for the visually impaired. A total of 51 countries signed this treaty, most from developing nations but a few from developed countries.
A lack of accessibility of books for the visually impaired is a serious issue, in fact; only 5% of the works published in a year are accessible to those with visual impairments. In parlance, this is known as a ‘book famine. 
This treaty seeks to make exemptions from normal copyright laws in order to permit organizations which print literature for use by visually impaired people to do so for less than the cost of the copyright. One of the main goals of the WIPO treaty is to assist in leveling the playing field for visually impaired when it comes to not only reading materials but also societal opportunities. This is a noble cause, trying to achieve equality of opportunity, but the mechanism for which it is occurring is undermining intellectual property rights and protections.
Even though the treaty requires that publishers relax copyright laws in order to develop multiple platforms to increase access for the visually impaired, this is something publishers and authors ought to be incentivized to do themselves. By this I mean that, it is good for the visually impaired to be granted the same level of access to today’s literature in whatever format they so choose, but it would serve IP rights better for authors not to be coerced into giving up their copyright protections. We, as individuals, ought to incentivize publishers to develop multi-accessibility when works go into production in the first place. 

Consequently, while this is a ‘win’ for individuals with visual impairments, it is a ‘loss’ for intellectual property rights. The most appropriate, non-governmental intervention, way to solve the ‘book famine’ is for individuals to actively pursue publishers to offer a variety of formats of the same work for all types of individuals. In the short-run, we can help organizations like National Federation of the Blind, American Printing House for the Blind, Inc., or American Foundation for the Blind.