The EU´s Council Working Group on copyright has succeeded in blocking progress toward swift EU ratification of the global right-to-read Marrakesh Treaty that seeks to benefit millions of blind and other visually impaired people around the world. Quick ratification had been publicly promised by Commissioner Vice-President Ansip. The Council Working Group on Copyright, which for years opposed a binding international treaty for an exception to copyright for the visually impaired, is mainly made up of national copyright office officials whose obvious first concern is to defend intellectual property laws and not fulfill the EU´s human rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons. Why is the Commission obediently following the narrow interests of national copyright offices instead of pushing this issue up to a higher political level in the Council where broader concerns will be taken into account?
The European Commission now will consider possible changes to first harmonize EU law on exceptions to copyright for the visually-impaired before considering ratification of the Marrakech Treaty. It has been decided that the Commissio will prepere a “non-paper” to test the waters and open, yet again, a new debate on how to proceed. Back to square one!
This means that even before considering ratification, EU member states insist on integrating the elements of Marrakesh into future EU copyright law. This is exactly the opposite of what had been promised to European Blind organizations by former Commissioner Barnier. Something is very unsatisfactory and surprising in this whole process. The Commission does not usually propose actions to be taken by the Council when it knows that nearly all member states are against it. As well, to start the process with a “non-paper”(no legal commitment nor concrete proposal) is a non-starter as it suggests a long process to even reach the stage of legislation. It could reflect a lack of political will to make this a swift process for a very minor modification of existing EU law on copyright (Information Society Directive 2001/29) and it could mean the desire on the part of the Commission and Council to delay Marrakesh until the whole new EU copyright framework is in place in 3 to 5 years time.
The ratification and implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty will mean facilitating the access to culture of tens of millions of people by making much more accessible the cross-border shipment of books specially formatted for the visually-impaired. What is also at stake are the leadership credentials of new digital agenda Commissioners Ansip and Oettinger whose declared objectives have included copyright reform for the benefit of disabled persons.