Stevie Wonder urges U.N. bring light to the blind

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.S. pop and soul music legend Stevie Wonder told diplomats from nearly 200 nations on Monday to stop squabbling over copyright and agree on a pact bringing “hope and light” to blind people around the globe.

And the singer-musician, himself sightless since just after birth, warned negotiators at the United Nations intellectual property and copyright agency WIPO that he would write a sad song about them if they didn’t act on his appeal.

“We must declare a state of emergency and end the information deprivation that continues to keep the visually impaired in the dark,” said Wonder, whose music has won dozens of top awards in his 50-year career.

He told delegates on the opening day of WIPO’s annual assembly that they should agree on an action plan that would empower the blind and near-blind by side-stepping copyright rules and giving them access to books and learning.

And the star wrapped up his 10-minute appeal by singing to his own accompaniment famous lines from many of his best-loved songs, including “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and “Keep Our Love Alive.”

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.


WIPO member states have for years been considering a deal that would overcome cross-border copyright rules and finance translation of books into Braille but has run up against strong differences among member states.

Some argue for totally free rights of translation into formats accessible to the blind, while others insist that no loopholes be left for piracy of texts, music and technology.

Wonder, a U.N. Messenger of Peace who has sold more than 100 million records since the 1960s, said the delegates should “put ideological differences aside and come up with a practical solution.”

While it was critical in loosening laws to avoid harming authors of great works that “nourish our hearts, minds and souls,” he said, WIPO members must find a deal that allowed easy import and export of copyright material for the blind.

“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,” he declared to laughter and applause from many delegations.

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 now-President Barack Obama.

Editing by Paul Casciato