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Obama Blocks International Treaty for Blind

3:51 PM, Jul 23, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The Huffington Post reports that "The Obama administration is blocking the creation of an international treaty designed to protect access to books and reading material for blind people in poor countries."

The administration's move to stall the treaty comes after President Barack Obama vowed to support an "international instrument" to ensure the global blind population has access to reading materials. Advocates for the blind are strongly in favor of the treaty, while corporate publishers, who profit from the global status quo, are opposed.

Negotiations are currently taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, before a United Nations panel, and are scheduled to conclude on Wednesday. Nonprofit organizations representing the interests of the blind say the American delegation has been effective in negotiating substantive provisions in the pact that would help people living with disabilities. But they say the U.S. is balking at efforts to make those provisions part of a binding international treaty. Instead, the U.S. is seeking a non-binding slate of policy recommendations, which advocates for the blind worry would not effectively remove barriers to educational reading materials that are currently in place. 

The treaty would aim to bring down the cost of blind-accessible media, such as Braille books and audiobooks, for those who are blind around the world.

"Many nations have specific copyright protections for such works, exempting their producers from having to pay costly royalties to publishers," notes the Huffington Post. "But poor countries still have very limited resources to produce works for the blind, and thus have extremely limited libraries. An international treaty would make it easier for wealthier nations, like the United States, to share works with other countries."

In other words, the "treaty would explicitly require countries to establish new copyright protections for publications for the blind. Violating the treaty would subject nations to international sanctions."

These are measures, according to the Huffington Post, that the blind community has advocated for over the last two decades.

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