Parliament Members Call For Removal Of Conditions In WIPO Treaty For Blind

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Members of all political party groups in the European Parliament in a debate in Strasbourg yesterday asked the European Commission to scrap several conditions demanded by the European Union and other Western countries in the World Intellectual Property Organization negotiations for the draft treaty on copyright exceptions for the blind and visually impaired.

Checks on commercial availability and a ban to cross-border transfers of books in accessible formats only to organisations – and not to individuals – would only complicate the treaty, MEPs from the Social Democrats, Liberals, the Green Party and also some representatives of the European Peoples Party warned Michel Barnier, Commissioner for Internal Market and Services.

Green Party Member Eva Lichtenberger requested the EU make sure that digital rights management protection not be allowed to counter access obligations. MEPs underlined that access as secured by the treaty to blind people was a “constitutional right and not a charity” (as Luigi Berlinguer, for the Socialists and Democrats reminded Barnier). Copyright must never become an obstacle for the visually impaired (VIP) to get access to the world’s literature, said Swedish Liberal Cecilia Wikström.

The commissioner said the EU was fully committed to a successful negotiation of the VIP treaty. Yet despite another negotiation round in April, five topics were still to be addressed.

First, some EU countries were concerned there was not enough protection for databases. Second, at least some EU countries support cross-border transfers only when the content is not available in the destination country. Third, the EU clearly favours a system of intermediaries, instead of direct access by visually impaired persons. Efficiency was the main consideration. Fourth, protection by digital rights management is a highly sensitive issue for many delegations.

Technological protection should not undermine the useful effect of the treaty, but neither must the treaty undermine technological protection,” Barnier said.

Fifth and finally, translation rights, according to the EU, are outside of the remit of the treaty.

Barnier assured MEPs the Commission certainly was committed to get an outcome at the diplomatic conference in Marrakesh in June, but as the aim is an “obligatory exception on the world level,” implementation should have enough certainty for all parties affected.

MEPs also pushed for access to the negotiating mandate, which has been made a classified document. They have asked for access to the document for over a month now. The rapporteurs will get exclusive access soon, promised the Lucinda Creighton, Irish EU affairs minister, speaking for the Council. MEPs have pointed to Germany, France and the United Kingdom as those countries that have been asking for stricter conditions and prerequisites for the treaty. 

Monika Ermert may be reached at

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