Commission stalling on copyright waiver for visually impaired persons

The Marrakesh Treaty was meant to facilitate access to literature that visually impaired people might not otherwise be able to procure. But the EU is dragging its feet. [Chinnapong/ Shutterstock]

The European Commission has asked the Court of Justice (ECJ) for legal advice about an international treaty it signed in 2014 that helps provide access to literature for visually impaired people through copyright exemptions. But it is yet to ratify the agreement.

The Marrakesh VIP Treaty (MVT) was adopted back in 2013 with the aim of facilitating the publishing of books and other copyrighted materials for visually impaired persons (VIPs). Signatories to the treaty are expected to provide copyright exemptions at a national level.

The treaty needed ratification by 20 countries in order to enter into force, which was received on 30 June of last year. MVT, therefore, entered into force as of 30 September.

But the European Union has yet to ratify the agreement, despite signing up to MVT on 30 April 2014. The Commission has been accused of dragging its feet on the issue by the Council of Europe and its request for a legal Opinion on the issue could be interpreted as further stalling or a genuine attempt to move the process along.

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The ECJ has been asked by the executive to analyse the legality of the treaty before the EU ratifies it. Not unlike a number of other international agreements, including free trade deals with Canada and Singapore, the issue is whether the EU has exclusive competence to broker the deal on behalf of the member states.

Certain member states have shown opposition to the treaty, despite having signed it, and Germany, in particular, has proposed including an amendment to MVT’s implementation that would grant compensation to secondary rights-holders, like publishers.

The Bundesrepublik’s permanent representation to the EU has actually proposed including a part of the bloc’s planned copyright law update into the MVT legislation.

That would mean “where an author has transferred or licensed a right to a publisher, such a transfer or a licence constitutes a sufficient legal basis for the publisher to claim a share of the compensation for the uses of the work made under an exception or limitation to the transferred or licensed right”.

Reda: ‘EU copyright reform would benefit fake news sites’

Günther Oettinger is leading the EU’s copyright reform efforts. In an interview with EURACTIV Germany, MEP Julia Reda warned this would threaten the freedom of online news publications and benefit false news outlets at the expense of journalists and small publishers.

This stipulation would make the Marrakesh Treaty unworkable in most EU countries, not to mention making it extremely difficult for poorer non-EU members in Africa, Asia and South America to access European literature.

The ECJ is expected to issue its Opinion in two weeks.

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