Concern Over Access to Library Material for Visually Impaired People Raised With Minister

Posted on 16 March 2017

LACA, the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance, has contacted the Minister responsible for intellectual property, Jo Johnson MP, with concerns that proposed changes to the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty in Europe will hamper the ability of libraries to serve print disabled people and provide access to works.

LACA has identified that proposed changes will mean that libraries face increased costs and bureaucracy when seeking to provide accessible format copies of books and other printed materials to people who are blind or partially sighted.

Because of a lack of accessible copies, people who are print disabled currently have access to just 7% of all books on the global market. The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted in 2013 to ensure that people with visual impairments have access to books in accessible formats. It contains two important proposals:
?The countries that ratify the treaty including the UK shall enshrine a copyright exception that facilitates the making of accessible works into their domestic copyright law.
?These countries must allow the import and export of print and digital accessible copies, including copies produced by libraries and other organisations classified under the Treaty as ‘Authorised Entities’.

In September last year, the European Commission proposed a Directive and a Regulation, implementing the Marrakesh Treaty into EU law. The Directive creates a mandatory exception harmonising Member States’ laws for the production of accessible format copies and the Regulation will apply directly in all Member States, permitting the cross-border exchange of works between Member States and other countries which are party to the Treaty. It is likely that the Directive and Regulation will be implemented before the UK leaves the EU.

LACA and 17 organisations representing visually impaired persons and the library and information sectors havecontacted Jo Johnson and MEPs Jane Collins, Sajjad Karim and Mary Honeyball in an open letter with concerns that some EU Member States, including the UK, are supporting changes to the draft Directive and Regulation that are not required under the Treaty and could seriously undermine its objectives.

Open letter

Mr Jo Johnson MP
Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation

15 March 2017

Dear Mr Johnson

We are writing to you regarding the EU’s implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled which entered into force on 30 September 2016.The Treaty allows print disabled people to make accessible copies of books and other publications, or for “authorised entities” such as libraries to do so on their behalf, including supplying accessible copies between authorised entities across borders, without having to seek a rightholder’s permission and with no mandatory requirement to pay compensation. The Treaty’s goal is to resolve the problem of people with print disabilities only having access to less than 7%of all the books on the market.

A strong supporter of the Treaty during the WIPO negotiations, the UK was among the first signatories at the end of the Marrakesh diplomatic conference on 27 June 2013. The CJEU’s Opinion A-3/15 of 14 February last has made clear that the EU has competence to ratify the Treaty on behalf of all Member States. Given the progress made by the European Parliament and the Council,it is likely that the Marrakesh Directive will be implemented in the UK and the Regulation will also apply before the UK exits the EU.

We are very concerned that some amendments proposed by European Parliament Committees and by certain Member States in Council, including the UK, are seeking to introduce changes to the ratifying legislation that could seriously undermine the Treaty’s objectives. If barriers not mandated by the Treaty are imposed, i.e. obligations to pay compensation to rightholders (which seems inappropriate since the need for the Treaty stems from market failure and it already protects rightholder interests), or to check for commercially available copies of books in the required format (impossible when working with countries with poor market information) before making or sharing accessible format copies, or cumbersome reporting burdens, the ability of authorised entities to serve print disabled people will be significantly diminished by costs and bureaucracy.

We ask you to take a strong position in favour of fairness and the human rights of print disabled people by making it as simple as possible for libraries and other authorised entities to help visually impaired people to at last have equal access to publications in a way that actually works for them. We also ask you to call on your colleagues in Council to respect the Agreed Statements to the Treaty, as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which the UK is a contracting party. Libraries and others should not face more regulation when serving print disabled people compared to serving anyone else. Requiring authorised entities to be formally registered will discourage participation, limiting the size of the network available to provide access to the Treaty’s benefits and is contrary to the spirit of the Agreed Statement concerning Article 9. A strong network of libraries and other authorised entities supporting the print disabled community, is essential for a meaningful delivery of the Treaty’s provisions to its intended beneficiaries.

We are happy to provide further information about these proposals. Please send your reply to Yvonne Morris, Secretary, Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) at

Yours sincerely

Fred Saunderson, Chair, Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance Nick Poole, CEO, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Michael Lewington, Director, Calibre Audio Library
Richard Orme, Chair, Right to Read Alliance
Dan Pescod, Head of Policy and Campaigns, RNIB
Mark Freeman, Chair, Share the Vision
Andrew Griffiths, Head of Advocacy, Sightsavers
Neil MacInnes, President, SCL Society of Chief Librarians
Ann Rossiter, Executive Director, Society of College National and University Libraries (SCONUL) Dr John Scally, National Librarian, National Library of Scotland
Linda Tomos, National Librarian, Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales Matthew Phillips, Head of Digital and Bibliographic Services, Durham University Ben Watson, Accessible Information Adviser, University of Kent Robert Hall, Director of Library Services, King’s College London
Jo Norry, Director of Libraries and Learning Innovation, Leeds Beckett University Kate Vasili, Copyright Officer, Middlesex University
Guy Lavender, Head of Intellectual Property, The Open University Martina Webber, Manager, Swansea University Transcription Centre
Debbi Boden-Angell, Director of Information Learning Services, York St John University

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