MEPs give assent to the Marrakech Treaty

Labour Party

MEP’s today gave assent to the Marrakech Treaty which gives copyright exceptions to facilitate the creation of accessible formats of copyrighted work to blind and visually impaired people.

Although today’s vote went through comfortably, UKIP members chose to abstain. It’s so important to ensure the rights of blind and visually impaired people are placed on an equal footing by ensuring they have greater access to books and other copyrighted works.

It’s therefore astonishing that UKIP members decided to abstain on this. As a member of the Legal Affairs Committee which heard representations and received evidence from those who are affected I can only imagine how disappointed, angry and let down they would feel by those who chose to abstain. Access to such material is vital and there is no reason why those who require such accessibility would not be granted this.

Although the vote gives consent for the Council of Ministers to sign the treaty, it remains unclear if the UK will drop out of the treaty if it leaves the EU.

I am concerned that the government may choose to water-down the treaty, and implement it with the condition of commercial availability checks (which would be a huge task for librarians and others who have a similar responsibility to be expected to undertake), or even fail to implement it at all.

The UK government must confirm that it will indeed seek to remain a signatory, and enable print-disabled people in Britain to enjoy the benefits of the treaty – the full benefits, and not a weakened version.

The Marrakesh Treaty will not only benefit European citizens who require such formats, but also many people in developing countries that are signatories. The “book famine” of accessible books for visually impaired persons is extremely grave in developing countries; currently only five per cent of books are available in accessible formats in richer countries, and this drops to less than 1% in poorer countries.

People who are blind or visually impaired face major hurdles in accessing literature and all printed material. The Marrakesh Treaty makes it easier for people in Europe and around the world to access braille and large print books; it would be a travesty if people in Britain fail to benefit from it.