Letter to MEPs from European Blind Union on WIPO Treaty


Dear MEP supporter,

I am writing to update you on the campaign for a treaty at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to enable blind people to receive books in accessible formats (braille, large print, audio etc).

Last week the twice-yearly WIPO Copyright negotiating committee (SCCR25) met in Geneva. I attended for EBU with a team of colleagues. Please find attached a World Blind Union (WBU) press release I put together following the meeting.

The Bad News

1. WIPO member states from all parts of the world negotiated hard, but have still not finalised a workable treaty text.

2. There was no agreement on the heart of the treaty provisions: those that would allow blind people’s organisations to send accessible books to blind people, including the sending from one country to another. The key sticking point for the EU seems to be the matter of “commercial availability”.

In short, the EU negotiators want to ensure that when a book is available commercially, in an accessible format that a blind person requires, then the treaty should not allow blind person’s organisations to make that same book accessible, or send it from one country to another.

In theory that sounds reasonable,and EBU will of course want to use the treaty to respond to the needs of blind people who cannot get a book in the same way that sighted people can. However, there are two problems with this insistence on “commercial availability” clauses in the treaty.

– The first problem is that “commercial availability” is not easy to verify, especially when a book is being sent from one EU member state to, say, a developing country. How could we be sure that the book is available at a reasonable price, at the time it is requested, in the right format, and so on, in that developing country?

A requirement in the treaty for detailed checks for “commercial availability” would please publishers, but stop the treaty from working for blind people as it would be too complicated and bureaucratic to administer. That would defeat the object of the treaty. The treaty should work on the sensible presumption that we will of course use it to make books which are not already available, but should not turn that principle into a bureaucratic burden for blind people’s organisations.

– The second problem. If the requirement is that the treaty cannot be used where a book is commercially available, then what about library books? A sighted person can obtain a book free from a library rather than buying the book. However, most libraries have few accessible books. So, to insist that a blind person must buy a book which-unlike a sighted person- they cannot get from a library, and therefore not use the treaty to get that book free, means enshrining inequality for disabled people into the treaty text.

To be clear, blind people want the same book, the same day, at the same price, as anyone else. The treaty should help them achieve this aspiration. Publishers’ rights are already protected by both existing law and by already agreed provisions in the treaty defining the non-profit use of the treaty, who the recipients of the accessible books should be, which organisations can send the books and much more. And any copyright infringement is already punishable under copyright law.

The Good News

The EU negotiators for the first time said publicly at WIPO that they could support a treaty. The formal Council mandate for a treaty was in fact granted this past Monday. This would not have happened without the pressure of the European Parliament. EBU/ WBU thanks you warmly for your great work which made that outcome possible.

EBU understands that the EU’s negotiating directive requires the negotiation of a treaty which strictly respects the EU’s principles of equality for disabled people.  We hope therefore the EU negotiators will make this their primary consideration in the remainder of the WIPO negotiations.

Also, when this past Monday 26th November, Commissioner Barnier came to Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, he agreed at the request of MEPs present to look at the issue of commercial availability, mentioned above, as well as some other concerns that EBU/ WBU have.

What next?

WIPO will meet on 17-18th December to decide whether to call a “diplomatic conference” for June 2013 to finalise the treaty. If it agrees to call the conference, as we expect it will, then there will be more intensive text negotiation between now and June 2013, including another week-long meeting in Geneva in January or February.

How you can help

Please do help us to devise a strong Parliament Own Initiative Report on the treaty (Eva Lichtenberger MEP will be the rapporteur; deadlines to be confirmed).

By all means to put questions to the Commission about the issue of commercial availability in particular.

EBU will talk to the Commission about the negotiating position on the text, and we hope to find constructive solutions to agree a simple and effective treaty. I will further update you on progress after the December WIPO meeting.

Thanks as ever for your fantastic support. If we keep working hard together, I am convinced we will get a strong treaty to really help end the “book famine” faced by blind and other print disabled people.

Kind regards,

Dan Pescod
European Blind Union
Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)
105 Judd Street

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