UK and European blindness charities are stepping up the pressure on politicians ahead of a decisive meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to consider rules allowing accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across borders, giving people with print disabilities wider access to books.
Negotiations at the WIPO General Assembly later this month, followed by a meeting of the organisation’s standing committee on copyright and related rights (SCCR) in November, are likely to settle a long-standing debate on whether access rights to copyright works should be the subject of a binding international treaty of merely a voluntary ‘recommendation’.
EU negotiators have been lobbying against full treaty status under strong pressure from rightsholders in some member states. However the European Blind Union has now submitted a petition to the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee to be heard on 3 October saying the EU’s position contravenes its own charter.
“By opposing such a treaty, the EU Commission and Member States are clearly failing to recognise and respect the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community”, the petition says. “In doing so the commission is failing to live up to its commitments to article 26 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on the integration of persons with disabilities.”
Meanwhile the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has responded to a UK government consultation on the copyright negotiations saying the EU’s position in calling for a voluntary code or ‘soft law’ runs counter to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which “makes explicit disabled people’s right to accessible information… and that ‘laws protecting IP rights should not place unreasonable or discriminatory barriers in the way of access to cultural materials’.”
“No rights holder organisation would accept the idea that voluntary codes of good behaviour signed by consumer organisations could be so effective in ensuring an acceptable level of rights holder protection that they would remove the need for binding copyright law. We likewise reject the argument that voluntary cooperation and licensing can replace a legally binding right of access to works by print disabled people.”
The RNIB rejected moves by some EU negotiators to suggest a ‘two-step’ approach, with a joint recommendation to be followed by returning to discussions on a treaty at a later date but with no guarantee any treaty would emerge.
“RNIB would like to underline that a two-step approach simply postpones – possibly for many years- a full and long overdue solution to a problem first identified back in the 1980s… it would put in place a second class solution for disabled people, in contrast with the first class solution –treaties – offered to rights holders to protect their interests.”
The November meeting is also likely to settle the final wording of the text of the proposed recommendation or treaty, including the relationship between the new copyright exception law and contract law, following progress in June towards a single draft document involving compromise on both sides (see July issue coverage).