Blind Readers Seek Guarantee Of Access Under EU Copyright Law 27/10/2008 by David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)By David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch BRUSSELS – Exceptions to European Union copyright rules designed to allow blind people access to publications should be made legally binding, according to disability rights organisations. In July, the European Commission opened a public consultation exercise on whether a central piece of EU law on intellectual property needs to be updated to take account of technological advances. Under that law, the 2001 copyright directive, exceptions from IP rules are provided for blind and visually-impaired people so that they can obtain books in braille or large-print format or as audio recordings. But activists complain that because the exceptions are voluntary, they do not provide a guarantee of access to material. The European Blind Union (EBU) is preparing to submit a paper to the consultation exercise, which runs until the end of November, arguing that the exceptions should be declared mandatory. Rodolfo Cattani, a spokesman for the Italian Union of the Blind, said that the application of anti-piracy technology, which blocks users from making copies, can mean that texts in electronic format cannot be used by computer programmes tailored to meet the needs of the blind, visually-impaired or people with learning difficulties such as dyslexia. If the EU fails to strengthen the basis for the exceptions, it will not be respecting a new United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities, Cattani added. The convention, which entered into force in May, requires governments to take “all appropriate measures” so that the disabled can enjoy cultural materials. “The right of accessibility should prevail over copyright,” said Cattani. “This is a fundamental principle.” But the Federation of European Publishers, an umbrella group for the book industry, said it is not in favour of widening the exceptions. Doing so would “send the wrong message”, according to Anne Bergman, the federation’s director. “The exception is being implemented in all [27 EU] member states,” she said. “What is really the problem is lack of accessible content, rather than the implementation of the exception itself.” One of the major hurdles to be overcome, she added, relates to who should be responsible for distributing books to the visually impaired. In Britain and the Netherlands, a national organisation for the blind is given files by publishers and is then tasked with circulating them among a recognised network. But several other countries have “dozens of organisations” working for the blind, rather than one which acts as a coordinator, Bergman said. “What we are asking the Commission is that if there is not a trusted third party, that it should create one, so that publishers know when they give a file to an organisation, that file will not be found on the internet two hours later,” she added. A study published by the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2006 found that 57 countries have introduced exceptions from copyright law to cater for the visually impaired. The report’s author Judith Sullivan contended that it “seems unlikely the exceptions would provide a comprehensive solution to the needs of visually impaired people unable – because of copyright constraints – to access the written word.” The European Bureau of Library Information and Documentary Associations (EBLIDA) also is preparing a submission to the consultation exercise. The discussion document published by the Commission to kick off the consultation noted that current EU legislation does not provide sufficient clarity about the extent to which libraries can reproduce material subject to a copyright. For example, the legislation does not make clear how many copies a library could make of a book if it is transferring it from paper to a digital format. EBLIDA Director Andrew Cranfield said that “harmonisation has been the name of the game” in the EU debate over copyright since the 1990s. He took issue with how policy-makers have favoured voluntary exceptions over binding measures. “This has led to a very difficult and complex situation in the member states, when it comes to understanding what is and what is not allowed in the rights of reproduction and communication to the public,” he said. Oliver Drewes, the Commission’s spokesman on internal market issues, said he could not comment on the merits of particular submissions at this stage, other that they are welcome. Once the submissions have been evaluated, the Commission is expected to call a conference during the first six months of 2009. WIPO Debate Looming There also is a debate on exceptions for the blind emerging at the World Intellectual Property Organization. In July, the World Blind Union (WBU) and Knowledge Ecology International convened an expert group in Washington, DC to consider a possible treaty for blind, visually impaired and other reading disabled persons. The WBU has drafted a proposed treaty, which is expected to be introduced at the 3-7 November meeting of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. More information can be found here. William New contributed to this story. David Cronin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related "Blind Readers Seek Guarantee Of Access Under EU Copyright Law" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.