The European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee sent out a strong signal to the European Union’s Member States last week by voting unanimously for laws which will ensure that people with print disabilities, and those that support them, are not faced with needless and harmful barriers to access to knowledge and culture.


The Marrakesh Treaty, signed in June 2013, and which entered into force in September last year, promises to remove the copyright-related market failures which have led to the book famine – the severe scarcity of books in formats that people with print disabilities can read.


In order to give the Treaty’s provisions legal force, countries need to ratify the Treaty, usually by changing any relevant laws. The European Union is currently in this process. Success will not only benefit the estimated 30 million potential beneficiaries in Europe, but also, by making it possible to share stocks of accessible format books in Europe in key world languages (English, French, Spanish), will create new opportunities for millions of others around the world.


However, success depends on saying no to the barriers that some have sought to put in place, notably an obligation to pay supplementary remuneration to rightholders, or to be certain that there is no commercially available alternative, before making or sharing an accessible format book. IFLA has been consistent in reminding decision-makers of the need to reject these barriers. The Legal Affairs Committee’s decision is significant, with all eight political parties echoing this point. Three other parliamentary committees had previously done the same.


The challenge is now to Member States, some of whom have placed maintaining pre-existing schemes above facilitating access to their own citizens, and setting the right example to other governments around the world. IFLA, working alongside the World and European Blind Unions, EBLIDA, EIFL and others, will continue to keep up the pressure for the right change.