Statement of Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) at SCCR 19

Thank you Mr Chairman,

I represent the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), which works to serve the 2 million people with sight loss in UK.

As part of this work, RNIB has a library of some 40,000 books in audio, large print and Braille, which we distribute to reading disabled people.

Most accessible books are made by specialist organisations like ours, even in cases where publishers provide licenses or the source files. These specialist organisations have limited resources, and are very often charities.

It should be noted that we cannot even use all our funds to make accessible books! We provide many vital but costly services, such as emotional support and employment advice.

It is therefore vital that we can share books across borders, to pool our scant resources and make more books accessible.

However, such efforts are frustrated currently by the national nature of copyright exceptions for reading disabled people where these exist, and indeed the lack of such exceptions in two thirds of the world’s countries.

For example, currently, books made available to reading disabled people in the USA are mainly not available to the UK’s reading disabled population. Bookshare in the USA has some 40,000 books and only around 5,000 are available to its UK members. Bookshare endeavours to obtain licenses from publishers, but these are not always forthcoming and take time to arrive.
It therefore often uses the USA’s copyright exception, the Chafee amendment, to make the works accessible. But that law does not permit those books to be shared with other English speaking countries. In the UK RNIB therefore has to transcribe the same books Bookshare makes, at great cost.

Imagine the waste of resources as several English speaking countries’ specialist organisations such as RNIB all spend thousands of pounds, dollars and Euros making the same Harry Potter book available, to name but one title!

When RNIB in the UK first campaigned for a national exception to copyright law, rights holders opposed it on the grounds that it would undermine their businesses. Later, they softened their stance and now six years have passed since the exception became law. It has helped us to provide books to reading disabled people, and has not, despite the fears expressed back then, undermined rights holders’ businesses.

Much can be done to improve the “book famine” faced by reading disabled people through our cooperation with rights holders, and by publishers themselves publishing more works in formats that reading disabled people can read.

But it cannot logically be argued that all books can be made accessible to all people at all times thanks to such co-operation. For the many cases where organisations like RNIB have to do the work ourselves, as we do now most of the time, the treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay would provide a minimum legal framework within which we can alleviate the book famine. As such it is a vital means of ensuring that reading disabled people can enjoy their right to read, and I urge all member states to support it.

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