Parliament Committee Urges EU Commission To Support Print Disabilities Treaty 05/10/2011 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch 1 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)The European Parliament’s Petitions Committee this week issued a call for a binding treaty allowing persons with print disabilities to make accessible copies of published works and to send them across borders. The action came after a complaint was brought to the committee on Monday by the World Blind Union, European Blind Union, and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (UK). The Petitions Committee left the case open and will “address urgently an oral question to the Commission on this issue,” it said in a release. Advocates say that only 5 percent of published books are made accessible in developed countries, and less than 1 percent in developing countries. The print disabilities treaty issue came up at the annual World Intellectual Property Organization General Assembly, which ended today. WIPO members are negotiating for such a treaty and took note of the WIPO copyright committee’s progress on the accord. It is possible an agreement on the treaty could be struck at the next meeting of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) in November, according to observers. Treaty proponents at the WIPO assemblies had sought approval for a proposal that if agreement is reached in November, then a diplomatic conference – the highest level negotiation – could be held at the same time as the 2012 diplomatic conference for a treaty on audiovisual performances. Ecuador raised this proposal, supported by a few others, but it was not acted upon before the copyright committee agenda item was gavelled shut, according to sources. Proponents argued it is unnecessary to wait until 2013 for the diplomatic conference if agreement is struck in committee in November 2011. Negotiators at WIPO have been closing in a deal on the treaty that would create an exception making it possible for people with print disabilities and organisations working specifically in this area to make copies in accessible format of published works in countries participating in the treaty (IPW, WIPO, 23 June 2011). The EU Parliament adopted a resolution in May calling on the European Commission to “work actively and positively within the World Intellectual Property Organization (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,” according to a Petitions Committee press release from 3 October. Chris Friend, chair of the World Blind Union Right to Read Campaign, asked the committee this week: “Do you know what it is to go to a public library and to find that you do not have access to 95 percent of the books?” Members of Parliament made some strong statements on the issue, according to the committee release. “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,” said MEP Peter Jahr (EPP, DE). “The right to culture is not a commercial matter,” said Victor Boştinaru (S&D, RO) and Sonia Alfano (ALDE, IT). They said 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.” Copyright laws are mainly national, the committee release said, which makes it difficult to share books across borders, even accessible format ones. Lobbyists for book publishers had been working against the legally binding treaty in its current state, in favour of other options. But at the WIPO General Assembly last week, a publishers representative congratulated member states on advances made in the last SCCR meeting toward a single text for a treaty, and said they had specific proposals to improve the wording of the text. The European Commission was represented at the committee by Maria Martin Prat, the Commission official responsible for copyright (who came earlier this year from the music copyright industry), according to sources. Prat said the Commission has continued to work toward a solution, according to a participant. She said the Commission continues to lack a mandate from the European Council of its member governments, and therefore must continue working with the proposal it has on the table. One source said France, Germany and Italy have been particular holdouts on this issue. The Commission has shown support for a soft law approach, which was rejected by the World Blind Union (WBU) last February (IPW, Copyright Policy, 10 March 2011). Prat also mentioned that the EU has a law allowing EU member states to create copyright exceptions for access to books by people with disabilities, according to the committee release. And there is a September 2010 memorandum of understanding on access to copyright works for people with print disabilities, which would support publishers and develop a network of “trusted intermediaries” in EU member states. But these will not [corrected] open the door for access in poor countries, WBU said. “A memorandum of understanding is not a treaty,” said Dan Pescod, vice-chair of the WBU Global Right to Read Campaign. “Two-thirds of the world’s countries do not have any exception to copyright.” The Commission apparently failed to mention in this week’s parliamentary meeting that the key proponents, the WBU, had suspended its involvement EU talks toward a soft law so as not to distract from a binding treaty. Groups representing the blind also were incensed by the Commission’s technocratic approach which fails to take into account the human rights side of the issue. 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 William New may be reached at email@example.com."Parliament Committee Urges EU Commission To Support Print Disabilities Treaty" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.