Blind people should have access to books and other published works in special formats, such as Braille, large print or audio. This requires a targeted exception to copyright rules, says a resolution adopted by Parliament on Thursday, calling on the Council and Commission to support a binding international treaty to make it possible. Only 5% of books are currently accessible to the blind in richer countries, and fewer than 1% in poorer ones.
Blind and visually-impaired people in the EU have only severely restricted access to books and other printed products because 95% of all published works are never converted to accessible formats, say MEPs.
There is currently no international legal standard for a targeted exception to copyright rules enabling cross-border distribution of works in accessible formats.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is considering an international treaty to improve access to books for blind and other visually-impaired people, but EU representatives there have consistently opposed a legally-binding text, favouring voluntary recommendations instead.
In this context, Parliament calls on the Council and Commission to support a binding WIPO treaty. This is not the first time that MEPs have called for a legally binding text. A May 2011 European Parliament resolution called on the Commission to work "actively and positively within the WIPO to agree on a binding legal norm".
In a debate on Wednesday, Petitions Committee Chair Erminia Mazzoni (EPP, IT) said "The Commission and Council's opposition to the signing of a binding international treaty represents a weak approach, which does not protect the rights of a key segment of EU citizens who should not be ostracised. Restricting free access to publications has significant cultural ramifications, social repercussions and a negative impact on the level of emancipation and independence among these citizens".
Parliament passed this resolution following a petition received from the World Blind Union, the European Blind Union and the British National Institute of Blind People. Any European Union citizen or resident may, individually or in association with others, submit a petition to the European Parliament on a subject which comes within the European Union's fields of activity and which affects her or him directly.
Procedure: Non-legislative resolution