The agreement, known as the treaty for visually impaired persons, would allow for such books to be distributed internationally, which is now largely prohibited, and encourage governments to allow books to be converted to accessible formats without having to get permission from copyright owners every time.
Advocates for the blind are pressing to extend the kind of rights afforded by U.S. law — which allow books to be converted to accessible formats without seeking permission from copyright holders — to the 300 million blind and visually impaired people around the globe. Only 1 percent of the world’s books are in such a format, according to the World Blind Union.
But the MPAA has been using its considerable clout with Washington officials to press for changes in the accord, warning that loosening copyright protections to help the blind could set a costly precedent.
“What happens here could affect other future treaties,” said Chris Marcich, who is in charge of dealing with the negotiations for the MPAA and its international wing, the Motion Picture Association.
The motion picture industry, along with counterparts in music and book publishing, say that an international treaty making it easy to bypass copyrights could do far-reaching harm in the digital age. Chipping away at copyright protections is especially dangerous, they say, at a time when it has become all too easy for users to appropriate others’ content. They pointed, for instance, to damage done by Napster, the online music-sharing service that critics say upended the music industry.
Hollywood had already won several battles over treaty provisions. Now, with the final scheduled round of negotiations underway, it is looking for more. The MPAA says the draft remains unacceptable, and it is making a last-minute push to win additional concessions. Advocates for the blind say these changes, if adopted, would essentially gut the agreement.
“They suddenly come out of the woodwork in the eleventh hour, and they’ve risked blowing up the entire negotiation,” said Dan Pescod, vice chairman of the World Blind Union’s campaign for reading rights.
If the differences are not resolved by the scheduled completion of talks on Friday, the treaty will die.
The MPAA has already persuaded the Obama administration to change course on several key provisions and to pressure other countries to do the same, interviews and records show.
Negotiators have dropped language in the treaty pertaining to movies and videos — which, for instance, could have dealt with adding audio to describe the on-screen action or extra-large subtitles for foreign films — and narrowed the focus to books.