Posts by Rashmi Rangnath:

Countries agree on historic treaty to increase access to books for the blind.


Late yesterday night, countries gathered at Marrakesh, Morocco, agreed on a treaty designed to promote greater access to books for the blind and other visually impaired persons. As many have explained, currently, the blind have access to less than 5% of printed material in most parts of the world and this treaty is designed to change that situation. Representatives of the blind, public interest organizations, and library groups working on this treaty have expressed their happiness with the text.

Here is a quick summary of how the treaty could increase access to books for the blind:

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Dear USTR, copyright has meaningful non-economic and social value; keep it out of the U.S.-E.U. Free Trade Agreement. If you have to have it, make sure it protects all Americans and not just large content owners. (And make the agreement transparent and inclusive while you’re at it.)


Today we filed comments about the proposed United States-European Union Free Trade Agreement – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). We told the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) that copyright is an uncomfortable fit for a trade agreement and should be kept out of the TTIP.

If the USTR still wants to include copyright within the TTIP, it should make sure that a copyright chapter in the TTIP will not impede Congress’s ability to change U.S. copyright laws.

We also asked the USTR to break from the past and not negotiate the TTIP in secret.

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Among the many valuable collections that the Library of Congress holds is a vast collection of old newspapers. The Library explains (page 16) that digitizing these collections can provide new and efficient tools for researchers. These newspapers offer a wealth of information on topics such as “the Great Depression, American perspectives on the rise of Hitler and World War II, post-World War I and immigrant communities in America, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, community views on the Civil Rights Act of 1968, to name a few.” These newspapers and scores of other works cannot be publicly disseminated without permission from their copyright owners, who are often unlocatable. These works are called orphan works. The Copyright Office is conducting an inquiry into possible solutions to the problem of orphan works.

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Exclusive rights conferred by intellectual property laws can conflict with human rights. Yet policy makers rarely acknowledge this possibility and continue to make IP rules that increase the scope of exclusive rights. In a recent decision the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) disagreed, recognizing that copyright laws can have an adverse impact on the freedom of expression. Scholars point out that the court is likely to hear more such cases in future.

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This past Friday, we filed comments in the Special 301 process, the Office of the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) annual exercise of naming countries that do not adequately protect intellectual property interests of Americans. We believe that this process has turned into an exercise of pressuring countries to pass copyright laws that provide maximum benefits to rights holders, preventing many social, economic, and political benefits that flow from sensible limits on copyright owner rights.

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As my colleagues Sherwin Siy and Michael Weinberg have reported, Senator Ron Wyden spoke at CES yesterday and unveiled his Freedom to Compete agenda. The agenda contains many concrete proposals to preserve and promote an open Internet. In this post, I will focus on the proposal that would instruct the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to seek open Internet principles in “all trade discussions” and also talk about the process by which these trade discussions take place.

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The World Conference on International Telecommunications will convene this December to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs). Certain proposals to revise the ITRs would adversely impact the open Internet.  PK and many others believe that any revision of the ITRs should not stray from their basic purpose – to facilitate international telephone calls.

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For comprehensive information about the TPP please visit tppinfo.org.

The 14th round of negotiations for the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) started today. The TPP is being touted as a “21st century” trade agreement, implying that the TPP’s provisions would reflect an understanding of the needs of 21st century citizens. With respect to copyright, this should mean that the agreement would reflect an understanding not only of the tools copyright owners need to protect their rights but also an understanding of the flexibilities that various users (like hobbyists, cultural institutions like libraries, archives and museums, and information and communication technology companies) would need to use digital material. Yet what we know of the TPP, at best, reflects little understanding of the needs of these communities.

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This blog post was co-written by Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program Director.


This past Friday (August 17), Douglas E. Schoen published an op-ed in Politico lobbying for “strong” intellectual property (IP) protection in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). The op-ed argued that such an approach would be a “straightforward” route to “job-creating innovation.” The op-ed ignored serious costs that over aggressive IP protection can pose to the economy, including the stifling of innovation in consumer electronics products and high monopolist prices for consumer goods including critical medicines. Like others before and since, the study Schoen cites does not support inferences linking particular IP demands in the TPP to innovation or jobs.

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All over the world, blind people cannot get books and other printed material as easily as those of us with sight can. Teachers face difficulties in using movies and music, particularly those in digital format, in the course of teaching. Librarians are constrained in their ability to lend and preserve books, movies, and music. Copyright laws, with the restrictions and costs they impose on these users, are a major contributor to these barriers. International copyright agreements exacerbate these barriers by constantly ratcheting up exclusive rights over knowledge and cultural products and diminishing user rights. The TPP is the latest iteration of these agreements.

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