Press Release

A cross-party coalition of 70 MEPs have called upon the European Commission and EU member states to support a legally binding international Treaty for the Visually impaired. They challenge the present EU position that only proposes a voluntary “joint recommendation” that is weak, very complex and lacking any legal force.

This Friday an EU Council “working group” meets to discuss this question and to establish a common EU position before the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that meets next week in Geneva. Presently, most of the world’s visually impaired and print-disabled people only have access to less than 1% of the books being published. This situation is considered by many as a “book famine”.

The European Blind Union and the World Blind Union (WBU) have long called for binding international copyright laws to allow the sharing of accessible books between EU countries and others in the world where the same language is spoken. A binding international copyright law would provide  many more books accessible to print disabled people around the world.  For example, the Spanish blind person’s organization ONCE cannot legally send the reading material it produces to Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America.

As the 69 MEPs express in the letter sent today to the Commission and Council:

“There is an ongoing and unmet need for international copyright law to be changed, so that organisations in the EU which make accessible books can legally share their collection with others in countries outside the EU, and vice-versa.”

WBU worked with Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay to propose such a law at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). This led to the formal tabling of a proposal for a binding treaty at WIPO in May 2009. The EU at first flatly opposed this proposal. Then in June 2010 the EU proposed its own weak, non-binding and complicated “Joint Recommendation” as a supposed alternative to the treaty. Such a “Recommendation” would not carry the weight of a Treaty. Its Articles would require blind people to ask for export licenses and would allow a publisher veto over our use of the “Recommendation”.

The cross-party group of MEPs end their letter in a clear request for the EU to be coherent with its commitments acquired to defend the rights to disabled people:

“We call upon the European Commission and EU Member States to live up to their responsibilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The way to do this is to work actively and positively with other WIPO Member States to agree a binding legal norm, based on the treaty proposal drafted by the World Blind Union and tabled at WIPO in 2009.”

European Blind Union and Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue

David Hammerstein, TACD 0032 474 472763 o 0034600266743