WIPO Copyright Plea
Stevie Urges U.N. to Bring Light of Knowledge to the Blind
Geneva, Switzerland – 20 September 2010
Stevie told diplomats from nearly 200 nations to stop squabbling over copyright and
agree on a pact bringing "hope and light" to blind people around the globe.
He warned negotiators at the United Nations intellectual property and copyright agency
WIPO that he would write a song about their inaction should they did not act on
"We must declare a state of emergency and end the information deprivation that continues
to keep the visually impaired in the dark," he said. He proposed to delegates an
action plan that would empower the blind by side-stepping copyright rules and
giving them access to books and learning.
His call was endorsed by the World Blind Union, which said that in developing countries less
than one percent of published works were available in formats like Braille or
audio. Even in rich countries, the total was less than 5 percent.
Without a deal, he said, some 316 million visually impaired people would continue to face
limits to their educational and work opportunities akin to the discrimination
that once held back African-Americans like him and current President Barack
Stevie wrapped up his 10-minute appeal by singing three songs to make the point that
knowing something without purchasing it does not necessarily have to infringe
Address to the 48th Assemblies of the World Intellectual Property Organization
Geneva, Switzerland – 20 September 2010
(Transcript of speech)
Good morning Director General, world leaders, distinguished guests, friends and my United Nations family.
I am grateful to Dr. Francis Gurry, Director General of W.I.P.O. and Trevor Clarke who have invited me to address this very important gathering of world leaders whom I know can turn inaction into action, and dreams into reality. I am also very grateful to have been appointed as a Messenger of Peace by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
In this role, I am further empowered and inspired to work towards my mission of bringing hope and light to the millions around the world who live with disabilities, and specifically today, those like me who are blind or visually impaired.
What I would like to do today is launch what I call the "Declaration of freedom for people with disabilities".
It's a call to action, a plan that will empower the independence of people with disabilities by providing them with the tools to learn and grow.
In America for instance, many African Americans owe their educational success to the government’s mandate that all individuals be treated fairly and equally. This proactive approach to inclusion created opportunities for people of color to have access to a quality education and employment.
So now, I ask the question, where would President Obama be if the U.S. courts and government did not take affirmative steps to assure equal access to a quality education for all Americans.
This is why I am calling for this body and your member countries to enact a "Declaration of freedom for people with disabilities". Through your legislative efforts, incentives can be created to advance the blind and visually disabled towards the promise of a better life.
I want everyone in this room to think, to think about how many young people that live in your various countries could be the next Barack Obama, but will never get there because they are visually impaired or have other print disabilities, and do not have access to the billions of books on science, medicine, history and philosophy that will allow them to be fully educated and one day live out their dream to be a prime minister, doctor, writer or teacher. We must declare a state of emergency, and end the information deprivation that continues to keep the visually impaired in the dark. We must spread the word that the untapped genius of the 300 plus million who have a visual disability are in need of our love and action, today; not tomorrow, but today.
While I know that it is critical not to act to the detriment of the authors who labor to create the great works that enlighten and nourish our minds, hearts and souls, we must develop a protocol that allows the easy import and export of copyright materials so that people with print disabilities can join the mainstream of the literate world. There are many proposals on the table that will create a safe clearinghouse for the exchange and translation of books, please work towards a consensus. I beg you, now is the time to love. And your love is the key to unlock the blinders that block the accessibility of translating books into a readable format for people with print disabilities. As I look around this room I know that many of you are dedicated public servants and have made quite a difference in this world.
But your work and my work is not done. There is a huge constituency of God's children who need you to put ideological differences aside, and come up with a practical solution. And I am respectfully asking you to join my declaration of freedom for the many print disabled and visually impaired by giving them the tools to think their way out of poverty and the darkness that is created when the mind does not have access to something as simple, but as powerful as a book. I understand that the E.U., the group of Brazil, Mexico and Paraguay, the U.S. and the Africa group have proposed different plans on how to address the cross border transfer of information. And there are issues on how to develop a protocol that has a binding effect, and at the same time respects the rights of all involved. It can be done.
We have the greatest minds in the world right here in this room. Please work it out. Or I'll have to write a song about what you didn't do. Please, please, please help Gods' light shine on the 300 plus million that live in the dark read their way into the light. I would like each country represented here to adopt and develop with W.I.P.O. or in their own countries a "Declaration of freedom for people with disabilities". It is our legacy and our gift to the future. Let's do this. But before I go I have another perspective that I'd like to share with you. Please give me a minute to get to my keyboard.