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UK Fails To Support Accessible Copyright Treaty

The UK government has declined to offer full support to a draft international treaty to allow accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across international boundaries, giving those with print disabilities wider access to books, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The news comes in a response to a written Parliamentary question from Lord Low, President of the European Blind Union (EBU), in which he asked for the government’s assessment of the treaty. The draft was first put forward by the World Blind Union (WBU: ) in 2009 at a standing committee of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) ( see E-Access Bulletin issue 131: ).

In a response from Baroness Wilcox seen by E-Access Bulletin ahead of publication, the government says: “Whilst we support the purpose behind [the treaty] we believe that it contains elements that go beyond existing international agreements on copyright… There is a need to strike the right balance between improving access and protecting the rights of authors and publishers.”

Dan Pescod, Vice-Chair of the WBU, told E-Access Bulletin this response was “very disappointing, though not surprising.”

The WBU treaty is one of four draft texts submitted by different national committees to address the issue of sharing accessible copyrighted material, all of which were discussed at a recent event co-hosted by the EBU in the European Parliament, Brussels.

The event aimed to highlight a lack of support for the WBU treaty from the European Union (EU), which is proposing alternative guidelines based around ‘joint recommendations’, rather than binding laws – a proposal that is “frankly too weak and complicated,” Pescod told E-Access Bulletin.

The EU is not taking seriously the rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he said. “The EU can come up with reasons why the ‘soft law’ they propose is more effective, but those reasons don’t seem to apply when they’re dealing with other issues. So there is definitely something of a double standard there, which we urge the EU to rethink.”

Publishing groups have previously lobbied the EU regarding the WBU treaty, claiming that the exception to copyright law it proposes would encourage widespread illegal sharing of copyrighted materials.

However, while the European Commission and European Council – two of the EU’s three main institutions – do not support the WBU treaty, the European Parliament has been supportive of the proposals, with 101 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) signing a supportive letter from the EBU in November 2010.

The WBU treaty, and other proposed options surrounding the issue, will be discussed further when the WIPO meets again in June.


  1. Vivien Palcic | April 30th, 2011 | 1:04 pm

    The EU has only served to make illegal copying of copyrighted material more attractive to a community who have traditionally been the most compliant, patient and tolerant with the on-going failure of publishers to make their works available in accessible formats to them. Enough talkfests have been held on this issue. Maybe it’s high time for the disability community to finally mobilise on mass and call for widespread boycotts against the EU! It’s bad enough when equal opportunity/anti-discrimination laws are toothless!

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