Notes from April 13, 2011 EBU/TACD/IFLA, EDA event at European Parliament on WIPO treaty for the blind

On April 13, 2011, the European Blind Union, the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the European Dyslexia Association (EDA) and MEPs Luigi Berlinguer, Eva Lichtenberger and Francisco Sosa Wagner held a meeting at the European Parliament on Fair Access to Culture and the Right to Read of Visually Impaired Persons: Exceptions and limitations to copyright with regard to libraries, education and print disabled persons. While several areas of access were addressed, the audience and the focus of the meeting was mostly about persons who are blind or have some connection to disabilities issues, and the position of the European Union on the proposal at WIPO for a treaty on copyright limitations and exceptions for persons with disabilities. (More context about this negotiation is available here).

These are pictures and notes from the event.

Adam_Kosa_2011-04-13-ebu-tacd-IMG_2105_300x220.JPG Ádám Kósa, a Hungarian MEP from the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) presented at the beginning of the meeting. Kósa is the first deaf member of European Parliament. His entire presentation was made using Deaf Sign Language. Kósa focused on the importance of access to culture, to the enjoyment of life. Kósa expressed frustration at governments adopting high minded but general statements, if they are not followed by the concrete and practical measures that are needed to improve access for persons with disabilities. “Are these just words in the wind?” he asked.

wolfgang_angermann _luigi_berlinguer_2011-04-13-ebu-tacd-IMG_2154_400x205.JPG Wolfgang Angermann (left) is a member of the European Blind Union, from Germany. Luigi Berlinguer (right) is Member of the European Parliament in the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, and one of the sponsors of the event. Berlinguer said, “you can’t have copyright without exceptions, for libraries this is a very important point.”

Wolfgang Angermann, who is German, spoke in English, first mentioning Article 21 of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilites, noting that it says that

“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise their right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice.”

Angermann explained how difficult it is to make copyrighted works truely accessible, particularly when there are tables with data, graphs and pictures that require considerable labor to make accessible to someone who is blind. Angermann explained that when a European blind person asks a US source, “can you lend us a copy in Germany?” The answer is no. “That’s the situation. You have to have a friend who can read it. Or find a printing house that can make an accessible copy. Isn’t it a terrible waste of time and money?” he asked.

Lord_Low_2011-04-13-ebu-tacd-IMG_2162_300x277.JPGColin Mackenzie Low is a legal scholar and a member of the British House of Lords. He was born blind and is Chairman of the RNIB and President of the European Blind Union. In his presentation to the European Parliament, Lord Low rejected the notion that the stakeholder discussions would be a substitute for action on a binding treaty. “After 2 years of the stakeholder dialogue, we have not exchanged a single book. Despite our good will, it has been used against us, they argue there is no need for a treaty, and then introduce what are frankly, very complex procedures.” In speaking about the European stakeholder discussions promoted by DG-Internal Market, Low said, even if it would be successful, “we can’t access the large collections in the United States.” He noted that the European stakeholder discussions would not allow Argentina to share its collection of 63 thousand accessible Spanish books with other Latin American countries, or facilitate the sharing of 202 thousand books from Spain to Latin America. Low said “They say, treaty making is slow and ineffective. But why do right owners not lose any time when reaching for a treaty to protect their interests?”
Rodolfo_Cattani_2011-04-13-ebu-tacd-IMG_2155_300x267.JPGRodolfo Cattani is the leader of Italian Blind Union and secretary general of the European Disability Forum. At one point in the discussion, he said that the European Blind Union would rather be defeated in their efforts to get a strong legally binding treaty than succeed in getting a soft non-binding resolution.
Photo of Eva LichtenbergerEva Lichtenberger, an MEP from Austria, urged the European Commission to support the treaty, as did Francisco Sosa Wagner, an MEP from Spain.

Ben White of the British Library represented IFLA at the event. White spoke eloquently about the importance of copyright limitations and exceptions for libraries, as regards to education and economic development. White said that in the UK, Universities are an order of magnitude larger than publishers, and “we want a more supportive legal environment.” White cited the CCIA study about the economic value of fair use. Fair use industries, he said, were “twice as large as large publishers.” White noted that research exceptions do not cross borders, and he expressed frustration at the growing role of contracts in negating copyright exceptions. The failure of the European Union to act to modernize exceptions was harming innovation. New approaches to “text and data mining” were in conflict with older ideas about copyright. White asked “What are the goals of good intellectual property policy?” Without knowing what the appropriate goals are, the EU will continue to have “lobby led policy formulation.”

Helga_Trupel _2011-04-13-ebu-tacd-IMG_2173_300x244.JPGHelga Trüpel, a Green MEP from Germany, pressed the European Blind Union on the issue of piracy. Trüpel, a strong defender of copyright, is said to be interested in the job of Minister of Culture in Germany, if the Greens do well in the next election. She spent most of the three hour meeting listening carefully to the presentations by the proponents of the WIPO treaty.
Tilman_Pescod_2011-04-13-ebu-tacd-IMG_2219_300x223.JPGThis was Tilman Lueder’s last public act as Head of Unit for Copyright for the European Commission’s Directorate for Internal Market. Lueder defended the European Commission’s backing of voluntary stakeholder agreements, and asserted that works created under exceptions anywhere in the European Union could be exported and imported across national borders within the EU, under its single market rules. At times, Tilman complained about those who wanted “complete harmonization” of copyright exceptions, a term that many saw as a red herring as regards to the WIPO treaty for disabilities, given the flexibility countries would have in implementing treaty obligations.

Dan Pescod of the World Blind Union was one the main organizers of the event, and is deeply involved in the WIPO treaty discussions as well as the EU and WIPO stakeholder discussions. Pescod began by describing the differences between the EU and WIPO stakeholder discussions, and then provided a lucid and compelling rebuttal of the arguments for inaction on the treaty.

Photo of David HammersteinDavid Hammerstein is a former MEP from Spain, who now represents TACD in Brussels. David sharply criticized the lack of transparency that allows the countries opposing the treaty to hide behind secrecy. David’s blog about the event is here.
malika_benarab-attou_2011-04-13-ebu-tacd-IMG_2194_300x137.JPGMalika Benarab-Attou, a Green MEP from France, has pressed the French government to support the treaty.
wbu_members.jpgThe EBU members attending the meeting were there to overcome the opposition of the treaty by the officials from the European Commission.
Olav Stokkmo_2011-04-13-ebu-tacd-IMG_2118_300x225.JPGOlav Stokkmo is the CEO of IFRRO, short for The International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations. Olav is one of several lobbyists pressing MEPs and their staff to reject the treaty.

I have more pictures from the event available here. (Everything is available under any creative commons license, with attribution.)

The same week of the Parliament event, WIPO held three days of informal consultations on proposed treaties for broadcasting organizations, performers, and disabilities. The WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights meets June 15 to June 24 in Geneva.

Update: At the private WIPO informals on Friday, April 15, 2011, the European Union said it would only support a soft recommendation with a 3 to 5 year period to evaluate it. The USPTO said it wanted to move first on a soft recommendation, which it thought would “solve” the problem, but after a few years of experience with the soft approach, it would allow the SCCR to see if a treaty was necessary.

After the event, the European Blind Union issued this press release:


European Blind Union
Press release

Paris, 13 April 2011

European Parliament book famine event: EBU calls for EU Council to back book treaty

Millions of blind EU citizens face a “book famine” in which only a few per cent of books are converted to “accessible formats” they can read such as braille, large print or audio.

On the 13th April, the European Blind Union highlighted this situation at an event in the European Parliament in Brussels. The meeting was hosted by MEPs Berlinguer, Lichtenberger and Sosa-Wagner from Italy, Austria and Spain respectively.

Discussion focused on a draft treaty that the World Blind Union devised and which was tabled in 2009 at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a UN body based in Geneva. Most WIPO Member States support the proposal but the EU Council and Commission have steadfastly maintained that soft law “recommendations” and voluntary licenses are a “better” alternative. EBU does not agree.

Lord Low of Dalston, President of the European Blind Union, who attended the event, said afterwards:

“The European Blind Union co-hosted this event to highlight the EU Council and Commission’s opposition to a treaty that was proposed back in 2009 to help us get greater access to books for visually impaired people. The EU Member States always call for binding treaties to further protect the interests of intellectual property holders. We are just calling upon them to treat with this same level of seriousness the need for an exception to copyright to enable those with visual impairments to access books, and to support a binding law at WIPO when they next meet this June.”

Unlike the Council and Commission, the European Parliament has been generally supportive of the treaty proposal. In November 2010 101 MEPs signed a letter from the European Blind Union to single market Commissioner Barnier, in favour of a treaty.

Luigi Berlinguer MEP, who co-hosted the event, maintained that the matter was a rights issue.
“It is not sufficient merely to sign the UN Disability Convention and say positive things about disabled people’s rights. For the EU to live up to its commitments under the Convention, it should support the proposal for a WIPO treaty for blind and other print disabled people.”

For further information, please contact:
Gary May, European Blind Union Information Officer
Tel : +33 1 47 05 38 20
Fax : +33 1 47 05 38 21
Email :

About the World Blind Union treaty proposal

1. The problem we are trying to solve

Even in 2011, blind people and others living with a print disability such as those with dyslexia still have very limited access to books and other published works. Only some 5% of published books are ever made accessible in richer countries, and less than 1% in poorer ones. We call this a “book famine”.

Increasingly, affordable and rapidly developing technology such as e-books is becoming accessible to print disabled people. This digital revolution ought to help end the book famine by allowing us to share accessible books worldwide.

However, copyright law has not changed in line with the technology. Often copyright law prevents both the making of accessible books at national level and the sharing of them across national borders.

2. What is the WBU WIPO Treaty? (“The treaty”)

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) makes treaties and other international laws on intellectual property rights such as copyright and patents.

The World Blind Union, assisted by copyright experts, drafted the treaty proposal. The governments of Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay then tabled it at WIPO in 2009.

The treaty proposal would:

– Make it legal for print disabled individuals and specialist organisations to make accessible copies of published works in all countries which sign the treaty
– Make it legal for accessible books to be sent internationally without permission for publishers
– Prevent contracts with publishers from undermining copyright exceptions for print disabled people (currently they sometimes do)
– Still respect copyright law: it is not an attack on publishers!

The WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), which meets twice a year, is considering the WBU treaty proposal. Its June 2011 session will have an extra three days to specifically consider the WBU proposal and three others that have since been tabled to deal with the issue of print disability.

3. Why we need a treaty

There are several reasons, but here are the main two:

1. Only one third of the world’s countries have a national exception to copyright law to allow the making and distribution of accessible format books. All countries need such an exception, because publishers often fail to help by making their books accessible or authorising specialist organisations to do so. The treaty would create such exceptions.

2. The national nature of copyright law prevents the import and export of accessible books. The treaty would remove this legal barrier to sharing resources across borders. That would allow many hundreds of thousands of books to circulate between blind people’s organisations in different countries.

3. But aren’t the “EU Stakeholder Dialogue” and the WIPO “Stakeholder Platform” better / speedier / more effective solutions?

No. These are at best partial solutions. They will never provide the same level of coverage that a binding international treaty could do.

Whilst we want to work with publishers on appropriate licenses, those they are proposing for these dialogues are far too complicated and are a step back from many licensing agreements we have now with publishers.

In any case, these agreements are by their nature more subject to change than a hard law. They also are at best only appropriate for developed country organisations with big resources. Given these concerns and the need for EBU and WBU to focus our scarce resources effectively, we have suspended our participation in the EU Stakeholder Dialogue and WIPO Stakeholder Platform pending the agreement in WIPO of a binding international copyright exception along the lines of our treaty proposal.

About EBU

EBU (European Blind Union) is a non-governmental, non profit making European organisation founded in 1984. It is one of the six regional bodies of the World Blind Union. It protects and promotes the interests of blind and partially sighted people in Europe. It currently operates within a network of national organisations of the visually impaired in 45 European countries.

58 avenue Bosquet
75007 PARIS (France)
Tel: +33 1 47 05 38 20
Fax: +33 1 47 05 38 21


James Love

James Love is the Director of Knowledge Ecology International. Previously, he was an economist for the Center for Study of Responsive Law where he also directed the Consumer Project on Technology and the Taxpayer Assets Project, Senior Economist for the Frank Russell Corporation, and held lecturer positions at Rutgers and Princeton Universities. His KEI webpage is