MEPs back calls for international treaty on accessible books


A decision by MEPs to back calls for an international treaty that would make more books available in accessible formats has increased pressure on EU leaders to reverse their opposition to such an agreement.

Campaigners say that millions of blind EU citizens – and others with impairments such as dyslexia – face a “book famine”, with only about five per cent of books ever converted into formats such as Braille, large print or audio.

The European Blind Union (EBU) has campaigned for years for a binding international treaty – through the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) – that would ease the problem by allowing charities to make and distribute books in accessible formats and share them between countries.

Most WIPO member states support such a treaty, with a draft version that has been drawn up by the World Blind Union due to be discussed by a WIPO committee in Geneva next month.

The European Commission – the European Union’s executive body – and the leaders of its member states – the European Council – have so far opposed such a binding treaty and instead favour recommendations and voluntary licenses.

But members of the European Parliament have now agreed a resolution that calls on the commission to agree a WIPO treaty.

The resolution also reminds the European Commission and EU members of their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible formats”.

The resolution comes only weeks after the EBU co-hosted an event in the European Parliament to highlight the opposition of the commission and member states to the treaty.

Lord [Colin] Low, president of the EBU, said: “I am delighted that the parliament has so clearly demonstrated its support for a binding law at WIPO.

“I urge the council and commission, which negotiate on this matter, to listen to the parliament, which speaks for the EU’s citizens, and support a binding treaty when they go to Geneva this June.”

No-one from the European Commission was available to comment.

19 May 2011