Better laws are needed to ensure the world’s blind and visually impaired people get access to copyright-protected books and digital information, according to PhD research by Lida Ayoubi.
Ms Ayoubi graduated with a PhD in law from Victoria University on 18 May.
One aspect of her research looked at improving access for the visually impaired at a policy level.
“How can we design laws that would make access easier for blind or visually impaired, not just in New Zealand but across the world?
“I explored how different countries are addressing the needs of the visually impaired and what more can be done locally and internationally.”
In New Zealand, access to copyright-protected information could be improved by the government ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, she says.
Another change needed would be for the government to amend the Copyright Act 1994 to comply with the treaty, and that would be a relatively easy change to make.
“Insufficient access to copyright-protected material is discriminatory and negatively affects the human rights of the visually impaired, including the right to education, culture and science.”
Although the degree of availability is much higher in New Zealand, Australia and Europe, the global statistics are disappointing, and it’s a matter of the law keeping up with technology.
“The state of technology is much better than the state of law,” Ms Ayoubi says.
The World Blind Union estimates that every year, less than 5% of all published material becomes available to the 285 million blind and visually impaired persons worldwide.
Ms Ayoubi initially became interested in her research area when she came across negotiations being undertaken at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) while completing her Master’s degree. WIPO was exploring a potential instrument to improve access to copyright material for blind or visually impaired persons.
When she began her PhD five years ago there was little research being undertaken in this area. “I couldn’t believe that such a huge issue had not been addressed before.”
Ms Ayoubi is now teaching intellectual property law at Auckland University of Technology, where she is continuing her research in this area.