Christian Engström, Pirat

23 oktober 2014

Bra nyhet: EU-kommissionen vill ratificera Marrakesh-avtalet om böcker för synskadade

Filed under: Books for the Blind — Christian Engström @ 13:07

EU-kommissionen föreslår att EU ska ratificera (skriva under) Marrakesh-avtalet om underlätta för synskadade att få tillgång till böcker på specialanpassade format. Det är jättebra. Det är är en fråga som jag och Piratpartiet drev aktivt i EU-parlamentet, och det är roligt att se att det har givit resultat.

EU-kommissionen skriver i sitt pressmeddelande:

Bryssel den 21 oktober 2014

Kommissionen har idag föreslagit att Europeiska Unionen ratificerar Marrakesh-avtalet för att öka tillgången till publicerade verk för personer som är blinda, synskadade eller på annat sätt läshandikappade. Avtalet kommer säkerställa att böcker på format som Braille, stor skrift, e-böcker och ljudböcker med speciella navigationshjälpmedel, framställda under undantag i upphovsrätten, kan utbytas över gränserna, inte bara inom EU utan också mellan EU och tredje land.

Jag drev den här frågan i EU-parlamentet som ledamot av det rättsliga utskottet JURI (som har hand om upphovsrättsfrågor). I februari 2011 skrev jag ett ändringsförslag till en resolution från EU-parlamentet. Ändringsförslaget uppmanade EU-kommissionen att ta tag i den här frågan och se till att det blev ett avtal, som de synskadades organisationer hade krävt (i decennier utan att någonting hade hänt).

Ändringsförslaget som jag skrev blev först antaget av det rättsliga utskottet JURI, och sedan av EU-parlamentet som helhet. Enligt de personer från EBU, European Blind Union, som jag hade kontakt med blev den här resolutionen från EU-parlametet den energikick som de som hade jobbat frågan under alla år behövde. Plötsligt, och uppriktigt sagt till allas förvåning, lyckades man komma överens om ett avtal som de synskadade ser som en stor framgång i Marrakesh i juni 2013. Att EU-kommissionen nu formellt rekommenderar att EU ska ratificera avtalet är ytterligare ett steg mot att avtalet ska träda i kraft och bli bindande.

Nu får vi se vad som händer i den vidare processen. Hittills har flera medlemsländer, däribland Sverige, jobbat hårt för att blockera att det blir ett bindande avtal. Det är vad bokförläggarna vill (eftersom de av princip är mot alla uppmjukningar av upphovsrätten), och hittills har den svenska regeringen gått på bokförläggarnas linje. Nu blir det intressant att se om den nya regeringen kommer fortsätta den linjen, att bakom kulisserna gå bokförläggarnas ärenden för att förhindra eller fördröja att avtalet träder i kraft.

Men EU-kommissionens besked i veckan är goda nyheter, och ytterligare ett steg på vägen.

Läs EU-kommissionens pressmeddelande om Marrakesh-avtalet om böcker för synskadade

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Ännu mer: Mina tidigare bloggposter om Böcker för synskadade

 

27 juni 2013

Ett bra WIPO-avtal för böcker för synskadade

Filed under: Books for the Blind — Christian Engström @ 11:04

För att synskadade och blinda ska kunna läsa böcker måste de konverteras till tillgängliga format, som till exempel Braille. Sedan länge har de synskadades organisationer i olika länder rätt att ta fram böcker i tillgängliga format, tack vare ett undantag i upphovsrätten. Men hittills har de varit förbjudna att låta synskadade i andra länder få tillgång till de konverterade böckerna. Upphovsrätten förbjuder det, och bokförläggarna har slagits med näbbar och klor för att behålla det förbudet.

Det här har lett till absurda konsekvenser: Harry Potter på engelska har blivit konverterad till tillgängliga format åtta eller nio gånger — en gång i Storbritannien, en gång i USA, en gång i Canada, en gång i Australien, en gång på Irland och så vidare. Samtidigt är det så att majoriteten av alla böcker som ges ut aldrig blir konverterade, på grund av brist på resurser. Det gör det extra frustrerande att upphovsrätten har tvingat de synskadades organisationer att göra en massa onödigt dubbelarbete, istället för att kunna göra fler titlar tillgängliga.

Nu kommer ett internationellt avtal som förhandlats fram i FN-organet WIPO råda bot på den här situationen. Avtalet har slutförhandlats i Marrakech i veckan, och kommer att undertecknas vid en ceremoni imorgon fredag. Länge såg det ut som att det endera inte skulle bli något avtal, eller att det skulle bli ett avtal med så snåriga regler att det inte skulle ha någon positiv inverkan alls. Men glädjande nog ser det ut att ha blivit ett avtal som de synskadades organisationer är nöjda med.

Maryanne Diamond, som representerar organisationen World Blind Union WBU, skriver på deras hemsida:

”The WIPO treaty better than I could have hoped for.  We stayed firm and as a result all of the key issues for blind people remain in the final text.  This has been a long battle with many people playing important roles.  The text goes to the drafting committee Wednesday, Thursday back to plenary for formal adoption; Friday will be the signing ceremony and celebration.  Stevie Wonder will be here for that.  We are exhausted but thrilled with the outcome.”

Det här positiva resultatet var inte alls någon självklarhet. Busarna i de här förhandlingarna har varit USA och EU (inklusive Sverige), som har varit mycket ovilliga att gå med på ett meningsfullt avtal. Men till slut blev det alltså ett avtal som WBU är positiva till.

Jag har ingått i en informell grupp av EU-parlamentariker från olika partigrupper som har gjort vad vi har kunna för att sätta press på EU-kommissionen att ställa upp för de synskadades sida mot bokförläggarnas lobbyister. Vi har arbetat nära tillsammans med WBU och EBU (European Blind Union), som har sett till att vi haft tillgång till relevant information för att kunna ta upp frågan vid olika tillfällen i olika utskott i parlamentet.

Därför är jag väldigt glad nu när det visar sig att det ledde till ett avtal som förhoppningsvis kan förbättra situationen för miljoner synskadade människor runt om i världen. Om vi har lyckats mildra en av de samhällsskadliga effekterna av dagens överdrivna upphovsrätt, då har vi tagit ett litet steg i rätt riktning.

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Andra om ämnet: Techdirt, IP-Watch, Knowledge Ecology International

Pressmeddelande från Gröna gruppen i parlamentet

Mina tidigare bloggposter om böcker för synskadade

21 juni 2011

Books for the blind: Talks at WIPO

Filed under: Books for the Blind,English,informationspolitik — Christian Engström @ 14:53

Members of the World Blind Union delegation at the WIPO negotiations on books for the visually impaired

Right now, talks are in progress at the World Intellectual Property Organization on an international treaty to address the”book famine” experienced by visually impaired people. The World Blind Union wants a binding treaty to say that when books that have been converted to accessible formats in one country, it should be legal to distribute them to visually impaired people in other countries.

The European Commission, which negotiates on behalf of the EU member states, has so far been opposed to such a treaty. The European Parliament wants a treaty, but it is the member states and the civil servants at the Commission who decide the EU position. In particular France is opposed to a treaty, so the EU negotiators are doing what they can to prevent this treaty from becoming a reality.

But it appears that there has been some progress in the talks. A consensus document has been presented that has the backing of many countries, most notably the US. This is a very positive development. James Love, director of the activist organization Knowledge Ecology International KEI, has written an analysis of the consensus document.

The negotiations are still going on this week. Let’s hope that somebody manages to knock some sense and decency into the EU governments, in particular the French, so that we finally can see a solution to this problem.

To get some feeling for what is happening at the negotiations, here is a blog post by James Love at KEI from last Thursday:

Report from SCCR 22 discussions of WIPO treaty for persons who are blind or have other disabilities
June 16, 10 am: There are good news and less good news to report from Geneva. While overall, things have moved in positive directions, with the US and the EU engaged in very constructive negotiations with Brazil and other treaty sponsors, there are still many frustrations. One is that the ”3 day” meeting time to discuss the WIPO work on disabilities has effectively been shrunk. Yesterday WIPO head Francis Gurry arranged for the SCCR to adjourn at 4:30, after only an hour of meeting in the afternoon, for a high level forum featuring the treaty’s main corporate opponents — the book publishers. This morning, at 9am, there is an ambassadors meeting, and the SCCR will again be delayed. So far, the agenda for the meeting is not decided, and we are still on opening statements. Only one NGO statement has been allowed so far — from IFFRO, one of the most bitter opponents of the treaty.

The US strategy has been to engage constructively on the text of a non-paper with Brazil, the EU and others, but to attack any text dealing with privacy rights or contracts, and to try to block anything that suggests a diplomatic conference. Yesterday Justin Hughes cynically used the fact that Article 30 of the UNCRPD (http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=150) has not been effectively implemented to imply that treaties are not needed or effective– in the same statement where he endorsed a treaty for performers, and during a week when the US is traveling to Vietnam for the TPP binding trade agreement negotiation, and while the US is trying to finalize the signing of ACTA. Hughes wants to present himself as a true friend of persons with disabilities, while he also tries to block a diplomatic conference on a treaty — without having to say publicly the USPTO opposes a treaty. Some 2.5 years in office, you would think the Obama Administration would have enough time to decide if they are for or against a treaty, publicly, but no such luck so far. With ZERO newspaper reporting on the treaty negotiations, and no activity by US Congress to support the treaty, USPTO seems to think may be able to kill it without an serious political repercussions. However, I doubt that USPTO has not considered that a treaty will move forward — there is some support within the US government to do so, any news coverage of the administration position could change the dynamics, and the disabilities community and developing countries are taking a firm position so far. My own opinion is that the treaty is actually doing quite well, and it is beginning to look like when and not if. The continued and constructive informal negotiations are an important reason for such optimism.

The EU strategy is also to block a treaty, but also to insist on provisions for ”trust” for intermediaries, in some cosmic form, not found in any EU statute that anyone has seen, based upon the EU stakeholder dialogue documents, which have not been signed or implemented, and involve voluntary agreements rather than statutory rights of access.

The European Commission pretty much has a new team at the SCCR this week, and they are taking a much more active role, despite claiming surprising ignorance of actual statutory exceptions in EU countries. As many know, Maria Martin-Pratt has replaced Tilman Lueder as the top copyright official in the European Union. Now one of two Maria’s heading major copyright posts (the other is Maria Pallante, who was just appointed Register of Copyright in the US), Martin-Pratt reminded me that we first met me at the 1996 WIPO diplomatic conference, and made a reference to a blog we wrote when her appointment was announced (http://keionline.org/node/1105).

So far, there is not much evidence that the EU will try to link progress on a treaty for disabilities to progress on a treaty for broadcasting organizations. The broadcasting treaty seems to be blocked at this time, given disputes over the nature of the rights and the extension of the treaty to the Internet.

The Africa Group wants a ”holistic” approach to limitations and exceptions, and I predict they will press for something meaningful to address their own concerns about access to knowledge and development, but so far, they seem supportive to work on disabilities as a separate stand alone measure, if there is a commitment to work on the broader access to knowledge issues. Next year, an ambassador from Zambia will chair the SCCR.

The WIPO Development Agenda Group (DAG) has seems to be a growing force in the SCCR negotiations, and I think everyone should see that as a positive development. India’s early intervention was quite strong, and Egypt played an
important role reminding Gurry that developing countries want balance in copyright, as part of the WIPO work program.

The new SCCR chair is Manuel Guerra of Mexico, a very charming, accessible and able expert. He replaced Jukka Liedes, who had been the sole chair of the WIPO copyright committees since the mid 1980s. A number of delegates remembered Jukka with some affection. Coming from a Group B countries, KEI thought that Jukka was doing a good job as regards the work on disabilities and other limitations on exceptions.

China is now the vice chair of the SCCR.


For a detailed history and background on the negotiation, see: Background and update on negotiations for a WIPO copyright treaty for persons who are blind or have other disabilities.The twitter hash tag for the 22nd meeting of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright is #sccr22

WIPO is providing live captioning for the meeting here: http://www.streamtext.net/text.aspx?event=WIPO password: wipo4me


2011 June 15, Exceptions to copyright: White House to decide if treaty for the blind moves forward, Le Monde dipolomatique.

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More on the WIPO talks: IP-Watch

Previous posts:

9 November 2010: Supporting a treaty on books for the blind
13 February 2011: An amendment for books for the blind
18 February 2011: Briefing: A WIPO treaty on books for print disabled
28 February 2011: Books for the blind in JURI: Win!
17 March 2011: Books for the blind in CULT: Win!
12 May 2011: Books for the blind in the EU Parliament: Win!
26 May 2011: Question to the EU Commission on books for the blind

12 June 2011: ”Synskadade måste få tillgång till böcker”

Andra bloggar om: , , ,

12 juni 2011

”Synskadade måste få tillgång till böcker”

Filed under: Books for the Blind,informationspolitik — Christian Engström @ 20:22

Debattartikel undertecknad av ledamöter från samtliga svenska partier i Europaparlamentet

De synskadade kan i dag inte ta del av böcker som gjorts tillgängliga i andra länder på grund av upphovsrättsliga problem. Nu har den svenska regeringen möjlighet att ta upp frågan med de andra EU-länderna. Det är dags för handling, skriver politiker från samtliga svenska partier i europaparlamentet på SvD Opinion.

Vi som undertecknat debattartikeln är: Lena Ek (C), Christian Engström (PP), Christofer Fjellner (M), Carl Schlyter (MP), Alf Svensson (KD), Eva-Britt Svensson (V), Åsa Westlund (S), Cecilia Wikström (FP)

Läs debattartikeln på SvD Opinion

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Tidigare inlägg:

9 November 2010: Supporting a treaty on books for the blind
13 February 2011: An amendment for books for the blind
18 February 2011: Briefing: A WIPO treaty on books for print disabled
28 February 2011: Books for the blind in JURI: Win!
17 March 2011: Books for the blind in CULT: Win!
12 May 2011: Books for the blind in the EU Parliament: Win!
26 May 2011: Question to the EU Commission on books for the blind

Andra bloggar om: , , ,

26 maj 2011

Question to the EU Commission on books for the blind

Filed under: Books for the Blind,English,informationspolitik — Christian Engström @ 21:26

EU Commissioner Michel Barnier presented his blueprint for copyright legislation this week

EU Commissioner Michel Barnier visited the European Parliament on Monday, to talk about the Commission’s blueprint for intellectual property issues, which was then officially released on Tuesday.

I took the opportunity to ask him what the Commission is planning to do about accessible books for visually impaired persons, now that the European Parliament has expressed its support for an international WIPO treaty to address the ”book famine” problem.

Unfortunately, I did not get any clear answer from the Commissioner, so I have now submitted the question in writing instead:

Priority Written Question to the Commission (Rule 117 (4))

AUTHOR(S): ENGSTRÖM, Christian

SUBJECT: European Parliament vote and EU position on WIPO Treaty for Visually Impaired

On May 12th, 2011 the plenary session of European Parliament adopted a report called ”Unlocking the potential of the cultural and creative industries” (INI/2010/2156), that made clear its support for the international binding ”Treaty for the visually impaired and other print disabled persons” presently being considered at the World Intellectual Property Organization. Article 70 of the report “Calls on the Commission to work actively and positively within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to agree on a binding legal norm based on the treaty proposal drafted by the World Blind Union and tabled at WIPO in 2009”.

To date the EU Council and the European Commission, that represent the EU position before WIPO, have rejected the treaty proposal and have instead supported soft law “recommendations” and voluntary licenses.

Given the position expressed by the EP, in favour of a binding legal norm based on the treaty proposal proposed by the World Blind Union, how will the Council and the Commission proceed during the upcoming discussions and special session on this issue at WIPO in June 2011?

I submitted the question as a ”priority question”, which means that the answer should appear on my EU-parl page for written questions in three weeks.

But above all, I of course hope that the Commission will do the right thing at the WIPO discussions that will start in the middle of June.

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Previous posts:

9 November 2010: Supporting a treaty on books for the blind
13 February 2011: An amendment for books for the blind
18 February 2011: Briefing: A WIPO treaty on books for print disabled
28 February 2011: Books for the blind in JURI: Win!
17 March 2011: Books for the blind in CULT: Win!
12 May 2011: Books for the blind in the EU Parliament: Win!

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Picture by Christian Engström, free for publication CC0.

12 maj 2011

Books for the blind in the EU Parliament: Win!

Filed under: Books for the Blind,English,informationspolitik — Christian Engström @ 11:39

The EU Parliament voted in support of a WIPO treaty for books for print disabled people

The European Parliament today adopted the report Unlocking the potential of the cultural and creative industries with an overwhelming majority. The report contains the following two articles:

69.  Stresses the need finally to address the ‘book famine’ experienced by visually impaired and print-disabled people; reminds the Commission and Member States 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, and to ensure that laws protecting IPR do not constitute an unreasonable or discriminatory barrier to access by people with disabilities to cultural materials;

70.  Calls on the Commission to work actively and positively within the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to agree on a binding legal norm based on the treaty proposal drafted by the World Blind Union and tabled at WIPO in 2009;

This was a win in the fight to address the ”book famine” that visually impaired people are experiencing. It means that the European Parliament has strongly expressed its support for a binding international treaty under the auspices of WIPO. This is what organizations like the European Blind Union and the World Blind Union have been asking for for a long time.

But the real opposition to addressing the book famine comes from the Commission and the governments of the Member States. The next step will have to be to convince the Member State governments to change their stance and start supporting a WIPO treaty.

This is an unusual political issue, in that everybody that learns about the issue agrees, once they have become aware of it. The only reason the book publishers have been able to block a treaty that would solve the problem, is that they have been able to keep their lobbying efforts out of the public spotlight. If we can change that, we will win in the Member States as well.

The report that the European Parliament adopted today is not legislative, so it is not legally binding in itself. But it is a step in the right direction, and an opportunity to raise awareness and put pressure on the Member States.

Persons with disabilities have a right to take part in cultural life on an equal basis with others. The governments of the Member States must take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible formats.

A binding WIPO treaty is the right way forward. This is now the official opinion of the European Parliament.

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Previous posts:

9 november 2010: Supporting a treaty on books for the blind
13 februari 2011: An amendment for books for the blind
18 februari 2011: Briefing: A WIPO treaty on books for print disabled
28 februari 2011: Books for the blind in JURI: Win!
17 mars 2011: Books for the blind in CULT: Win!

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17 mars 2011

Books for the blind in CULT: Win!

Filed under: Books for the Blind,English,informationspolitik — Christian Engström @ 12:19

The CULT committee voted in support for a WIPO treaty on books for the blind today

The cultural committee CULT adopted the amendment supporting a binding WIPO treaty on books for the blind this morning. As far as I could tell, the vote was unanimous, just like it was in the legal affairs committee JURI last month.

The next step is now the vote in plenary on the report Unlocking the potential of the cultural and creative industries. This vote should some time later this spring.

To actually get a treaty giving blind people access to books that have been converted to readable formats in other countries, not only the European Parliament, but also the Commission and the governments of the 27 member states need to be in favour of it. There is still a very long way to go.

But the win in CULT today was one more step in the right direction.

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Previous articles
on Books for the Blind

Picture by Christian Engström, free for publication CC0

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28 februari 2011

Books for the blind in JURI: Win!

Filed under: Books for the Blind,English,informationspolitik — Christian Engström @ 19:12

The legal affairs committee in the European Parliament today voted in support of a treaty for books for the blind

Today the legal affairs committee JURI in the European Parliament today unanimously adopted an amendment supporting a binding WIPO treaty to give visually impaired and print disabled persons access to books that have been converted to accessible formats in other countries.

You can read more about the problem, and why a binding international treaty is needed, here.

The next step in getting the European Parliament to express its support for such a treaty will be a vote in the cultural committee CULT. I do not have an official date for the vote in CULT yet, but it appears it will be some time in March.

If the cultural committee accepts the amendment as well, it will be voted in plenary as part of the report Unlocking the potential of the cultural and creative industries some time later this spring.

There is still a long process ahead before any treaty on this subject becomes a reality, but today’s vote in JURI was an encouraging first step. And it was of course extra encouraging that all the political groups supported the amendment in that committee.

Now we’ll see what happens in CULT.

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Picture by Christian Engström, free for publication CC0

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18 februari 2011

Briefing: A WIPO treaty on books for print disabled

Filed under: Books for the Blind,Copyright Reform,English,informationspolitik — Christian Engström @ 15:42

The briefing from the EBU is available as pdf as well

The legal affairs committee JURI in the European Parliament will vote on amendments to a report called ”Unlocking the potential of cultural and creative industries” on February 28. Amendment 21 to the report is about adopting an international WIPO treaty to give blind people better access to book in accessible formats (such as for instance Braille).

The European Blind Union
EBU has sent a briefing to all members of the JURI committee. It explains the problem, and why a WIPO treaty is needed to solve it. I copy the briefing from the EBU here:

WIPO treaty on limitations and exceptions for the print disability community

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.

4. 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.

Furthermore, our goodwill in taking part in these platforms is constantly being unfairly used politically by rights holders such as IFRRO to suggest that thanks to these platforms no binding law, such as our treaty, is needed. (See this on the IFRRO site, for example).

The fact is, after two years of the WIPO Stakeholder Dialogue we have not yet exchanged a single book, and the same goes for the 14 months since the EU Stakeholder Dialogue.

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. Even a big developed country organisation, ONCE, has now refused to continue with the Stakeholder Platform process and others are reconsidering their position at the time of writing.

5. Why not accept one of the alternatives to the treaty being proposed at WIPO?

The African group, the European Union and the USA have all made their own proposals at the WIPO SCCR within the last year to “solve” the copyright barriers print disabled people face.

The African group proposal is a near copy of the WBU proposal, but it adds in a range of other issues such as libraries and education. As a result it is not politically acceptable to a significant number of WIPO Member States. This is because many are prepared to make a law on access for print disabled people but are less ready to do so on the other issues Africa has inserted into its proposal. So whilst we understand the wider aspirations of the African group, it is not likely the proposal will advance as it stands.

The EU proposal is frankly too weak and complicated. The EU proposes only a WIPO “Joint Recommendation”, which means that unlike the WBU treaty, the EU proposal would not produce a legally binding law.

The EU proposal also requires blind people’s organisations to ask for a license from rights holders to export accessible works. We can do that now and are slowly pursuing this where possible with publishers! This EU licensing requirement makes no sense, since a law allowing export is needed most especially for cases where it has not been possible to obtain a license from a publisher!

The EU proposal also makes much of a system of accredited “Trusted Intermediaries”. To be brief, such a system would allow publishers a veto over which blind people’s organisations can use the “Joint Recommendation”. This is a regression from the usual practice in copyright law and would make the provision of accessible books harder rather than easier.

The USA proposal for a so-called “Draft Consensus Instrument” is similar to the EU’s effort. It would also be non-binding, and also insists on a system of Trusted Intermediaries which carries therefore the danger of a publisher “veto” mentioned above.

The European Blind Union 2011

This makes sense to me, and I see no reason not to support a treaty. I hope all colleagues in the JURI committee will join me in supporting Amendment 21 in the vote next Monday.

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13 februari 2011

An amendment for books for the blind

Filed under: Books for the Blind,Copyright Reform,English,informationspolitik — Christian Engström @ 13:16

Blind people are forbidden to read books that have been produced in other countries

Blind people are not allowed to read books that are available in Braille or other accessible formats, if the book has been converted in a country other than the one they live in.

For example, blind people in Britain are not allowed to read US Braille books, and blind people in the US are not allowed to read British books. Blind people in Sweden are not allowed to read English Braille books from either Britain or the US.

The reason for this is our copyright legislation. There are exceptions to copyright that allow non-profit organizations to make books accessible to visually impaired people, without the publisher’s consent. But these exceptions are all on the national level.

If a book exists in an accessible format in one country, the publisher’s consent is still needed to export the accessible book. But in practice, the book publishers typically refuse to give that consent. The result is a shortage of books in accessible formats, especially in the developing world, but here in Europe as well.

The blind peoples’ organizations call this the ”book famine”.

The solution to this problem would be to have an international treaty saying that when a non-profit organization has converted a book in one country, visually impaired people in other countries may read it as well.

The World Blind Union has drafted such an treaty, and tabled it at the World Intellectual Property Organization WIPO in 2009. But the book publishers’ associations are opposed to it. They want to keep the voluntary nature of the arrangements that exist today, even though it means blind people are not allowed to read books from other countries.

The European Union has unfortunately sided with the book publishers, and is opposed to a treaty in WIPO. The resistance to the treaty comes from the Commission and from many or all of the member states (including, for example, Sweden).

I think this is a disgrace. The book publishers would not even lose any money from setting the accessible books free, since they do not actually sell any accessible versions of their books themselves. But even if they did, the interests of visually impaired people all over the world would take precedence.

Not solving this problem immediately is just plain immoral.

The EU Parliament is right now working on an own initiative report called Unlocking the potential of the cultural and creative industries. It is a wide-ranging report on many different aspects of the cultural industries, but the issue of solving the book famine fits in there.

Together with my colleague MEP Eva Lichtenberger (Greens, AT) I have tabled the following amendment to the report in the legal affairs committee JURI:

Amendment 21

5 a (new). Stresses the need to finally address the ”book famine” experienced by visually impaired and print disabled people; reminds the Commission and Member States of their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible formats, and to ensure that laws protecting intellectual property rights do not constitute an unreasonable or discriminatory barrier to access by persons with disabilities to cultural materials; calls on the Commission to work actively and positively within the World Intellectual Property Organization WIPO to agree on a binding legal norm, based on the treaty proposal drafted by the World Blind Union and tabled at WIPO in 2009;

In the best of worlds, this would not be controversial at all. The first sentence says that we need to solve the book famine problem. I hope everybody agrees with that.

The second sentence is just cut-and-paste from Article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Most or all of the EU member states have signed this convention, so it ought to be uncontroversial that we should abide by it. Intellectual property laws may not be used as unreasonable barriers against disabled people.

And the last sentence is just what the European Blind Union EBU is proposing as a solution to the problem. It is a reasoned and balanced proposal, and I would have hoped that all political institutions would support it wholeheartedly without any further prompting.

But the political reality is not quite that easy.

The amendment will be voted in the JURI committee on February 28. If it gets a majority there, it will get passed to the cultural committee CULT for a new vote a couple of days later.

If the amendment has made it through both JURI and CULT, it will be part of the report Unlocking the potential of the cultural and creative industries when that report is voted in plenary some time later this spring.

If the report is adopted with the amendment, this will be the official position of the European Parliament. From there, the next step will be to put pressure on the EU Commission and the Member States to start supporting the treaty.

At the EBU website, you can read more about the European Commission’s opposition to a binding treaty.

It is a long way to go, but we have to start somewhere. The EU’s current opposition to a WIPO treaty for visually impaired and print disabled people is a disgrace. It’s time to change it.

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