Does Hollywood Hate Blind People? Why the MPAA Opposes an International Copyright Treaty That Could Make Words and Stories More Accessible for the Visually Impaired

In the video at the top of this post, Prof. Ron McCallum (Former Dean of University of Sydney Law Schoaol) talks about his remarkable life as a blind reader.  At the end of his inspirational talk, Prof. McCallum explains how international copyright law - currently holding up access to content that blind people need to participate and contribute as he has done throughout his life - might be improved.

Unfortunately, just such a measure, the WIPO Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities - which would make it easier for blind people around the globe to be able to access creative works and scholarly journals - is being opposed by the big Hollywood studios and other large corporate interests.

Just as world leaders are preparing to gather in Morocco (June 17th and 18th, 2013) to finalize a deal that Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay first proposed in 2009 - that would loosen copyright restrictions on books for the blind - word is coming that Hollywood, big oil, big pharma (e,g., Roche, Squibb, Lilly) , and others are marshalling their political clout against the treaty. The final chapter has not been written yet, but, as reported in Wired on May 21st, 2013, intense lobbying "by Hollywood and dozens of the world’s largest corporations, including ExxonMobil" may result in the collapse of the talks and no treaty to benefit blind people around the world emerging from the Morocco meetings.

What sort of companies lobby against helping blind people to read?

The head of the MPAA (the lobbying arm of the six big Hollywood studios),  former Senator Chris Dodd, vehemently opposes provisions in the proposed treaty that he says would 'undermine” technological protection measures (such as DRM) that are currently used by copyright holders to block access to work like Hollywood movies on DVDs.

The MPAA also wants to remove any mention of fair use from the treaty.  That provision of US law provides exceptions whereby parts of copyright works can be copied without permission (e.g. by libraries and journalists for uses such as commentary or criticism).

Perhaps most ominously for those who want to see this treaty in force, Richard Phillips,  a top ExxonMobil attorney, has written to the Obama administration - on behalf of his company and a list of other big corporate powers - arguing that the treaty negotiations “threaten to upset the fundamental balance on which our US and global IP system is based.”

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