“Right to read” for blind and low vision Europeans still denied – access to literary works locked
The conclusion of the “Marrakesh Treaty” by the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), on 27th of June 2013 offers the historic chance for blind people all over the world, to finally exercise their right to read. The “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities” establishes legal fundamental grounds for access to literature by empowering authorized entities to convert inaccessible published books into formats which are accessible for vision impaired users. It also allows the legal sharing of accessible book collections across national borders. While a range of countries such as India, Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, Paraguay, Mali and others have already ratified the Marrakesh Treaty, the EU and its members are still failing in doing so.
In October 2013 the Copyright Unit of the European Commission presented a proposal to the Council which authorizes the European Union to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty on behalf of all EU member states. 14 months after the Commission had tabled its proposal the Council has still failed to reach an agreement on EU's ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, although the legal services of EU Commission, Council and European Parliament have insisted on the clarity of exclusive EU competence which is supported by ample European Court jurisprudence. Right from the start council negotiations were accompanied by tough battles about legal competencies leading to the fact that the commission proposed a second legal compromise. While 21 EU member states have expressed their consent to the proposed compromise, which would allow a swift ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, seven EU member states led by Germany and Italy have rejected the compromise and are forming a blocking minority which stalemates the ongoing ratification negotiations. The lack of commitment in reaching a constructive agreement is a clear infringement of the right to accessible information enshrined in the UN-Convention On the rights Of Persons with Disabilities, which Germany and Italy have ratified. “Germany's delaying tactic demonstrates an appalling ignorance of Europe's blind people's right to read. Their unsubstantiated arguments and diverting strategy is a stab in the back for blind readers all over the world, and prevents their prosperity and equal social participation.” Says German EBU President Wolfgang Angermann.
The European parliament has regularly expressed its dismay about the procrastinating council negotiations and has urged the current Luxemburgish presidency to seek a swift solution to the conflict. While the EU-Commission has sent the case to the European court of Justice and has released a legislative proposal aiming at describing, how the treaty can be legally implemented, blind European readers urge the EU and council to stay focused on swift ratification. Only ratification will make the treaty work and will bring us our deserved right to information. We have waited long enough, it is time to act.