UN official pledges support to tackle copyright challenges for the visually impaired

A portable braille printer

11 November 2009 – The head of the United Nations agency entrusted with protecting intellectual property rights has pledged support for efforts to improve access to copyright-protected works for the world’s blind or visually impaired persons.

“Let me assure you that this is a priority area for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO),” Director General Francis Gurry told participants at a conference in New Delhi today.

According to the agency, over 314 million blind or visually impaired people worldwide stand to benefit from a more flexible copyright regime adapted to current technological realities.

Individuals with reading impairment often need to convert information into Braille, large print, audio, electronic and other formats using assistive technologies. It is estimated that only 5 per cent of published books in developed countries are converted into formats accessible to the reading impaired.

In India this number is even lower, at only 0.5 per cent, impeding educational and employment opportunities for the country’s nearly 70 million reading impaired citizens.

“While, today, sighted individuals enjoy unprecedented access to copyright-protected content, in some contexts, social, economic, technological and legal factors, including the operation of copyright protection systems, can combine to seriously impede access to such works by the blind or other reading impaired persons,” WIPO stated in a news release.

The agency added that the widespread use of digital technologies, in particular, has led to discussions on how to maintain a balance between the protection available to copyright owners, and the needs of specific user groups, such as reading impaired persons.

Mr. Gurry noted that innovation and affordability are key considerations when addressing the specific requirements of the visually impaired in developing countries.

He called for joining forces with UN partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to make best use of the expertise and skills that are available and move forward on these important questions.


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