Official European Parliament press release on Treaty for Visually Impaired

Press Release – 03.10.2011


Ensuring blind people’s access to information


Visually impaired people should have full access to books and other printed products, said the Petitions Committee on Monday. Following a complaint by the World Blind Union, the European Blind Union and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (UK), MEPs called for a binding treaty to ensure that persons with print disabilities can make accessible copies of published works and send them to other countries. Only 5% of published books are made accessible in richer countries, and less than 1% in poorer ones.


“Do you know what it is to go to a public library and to find that you do not have access to 95% of the books?” asked Chris Friend, Chair of the World Blind Union Right to Read Campaign. “We only want the opportunity that you have to go to a local seller and to borrow or to buy the latest best-seller that our relatives or our friends talk about”, he added.


A legally-binding international treaty?


The European Parliament adopted last May a resolution calling on the Commission to “work actively and positively within the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to agree on a binding legal norm based on the treaty proposal drafted by the World Blind Union and tabled at WIPO in 2009”.


The proposed treaty would make it legal for people with print disabilities and specialist organisations to make accessible copies of published works in all participant countries. Copyright laws are mainly national, which prevents the import and export of accessible books. The treaty proposal would also remove this legal barrier, making it legal for blind people’s organisations in different countries to circulate accessible books.


Parliament’s demand for a legally-binding instrument has not been met so far. The Commission representative said that “we need a mandate by the Council for these negotiations”. The next WIPO meeting will take place in November and the Commission expects to “continue working with the text that we have on the table, although we do not have a mandate for a full Treaty”.


“Over 100 Member States at the WIPO support the call for a binding treaty”, said Mr Friend.


“It is a form of discrimination, people’s basic right to education and culture is being neglected”, said MEP Angelika WERTHMANN (Non Attached, AT). “It is simply unacceptable that a part of society is being denied access to books”, added MEP Peter JAHR (EPP, DE). “The right to culture is not a commercial matter”, pointed out Victor BO?TINARU (S&D, RO) and Sonia ALFANO (ALDE, IT), adding that denying access to published works represents a “violation of fundamental rights”. Margrete AUKEN (Greens/EFA, DK) insisted that “the European Parliament is in favour of a binding law”.


Situation within the EU


“We have legislation within the EU that provides Member States with the possibility to limit copyright to guarantee access to books by disabled people”, stressed the Commission representative referring to the EU Directive on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright.


She also mentioned a memorandum of understanding on access to copyright works for people with print disabilities, whose aim is to support publishers’ efforts to produce accessible content and to develop a network of “trusted intermediaries” in all EU Member States. The memorandum of understanding was signed in September 2010 and is not a binding document.


“A memorandum of understanding is not a treaty” said Dan Pescod, Vice-chair of the World Blind Union Global Right to Read Campaign. “Two thirds of the world countries do not have any exception to copyright”, he added.


Next steps


The Petitions Committee decided to leave the case open and to address urgently an oral question to the Commission on this issue.


In the chair: Erminia Mazzoni (EPP, IT)


Petitions Committee website

Watch the meeting