Smith Backs World Blind Union Campaign To End Book Famine

19 October 2010
SNP Member of the European Parliament, Alyn Smith has today (Tuesday) joined with other MEPs from across the political spectrum to back the World Blind Union campaign end the 'book famine' for the blind.
Blind, partially sighted and dyslexic people face a "book famine" in which only some five per cent of books are ever converted into accessible formats they can read such as large print, audio or braille. Smith is calling on international copyright law to be changed, so that
organisations in the EU which make accessible books can legally share their collection with others in countries outside the EU, and vice-versa.  This would increase the number of accessible books available to disabled EU citizens and to people in other countries who share a language with an EU Member State.  The World Blind Union (WBU) made a proposal at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) back in 2009 for a treaty to remove the copyright law barriers that prevent this sharing of accessible books.  However, the EU opposed the treaty.  More recently, the EU tabled a rival proposal allowing publishers a veto over who can share books with whom.
Smith said:
"With 314 million blind people worldwide, and the technology to share books growing apace, it is only right that we should make special efforts to ensure the barriers already suffered by blind and partially sighted should not be added to by artificially restrictive legal rules.
"Clearly, the rights of producers of content also need to be catered for, but it seems clear to me that the legal status quo is leaving nobody satisfied and a potential market unexplored.  New technological innovation has opened new worlds of information to the sighted majority and also provides the means to ensure that no book need now be closed to blind or partially sighted people.  There is no longer any technical hindrance that could bar a blind person from reading a book, however millions of people are still missing out on not only this revolution, but on access to even the most basic educational texts: novels, instruction manuals, textbooks etc.
"Instead of unnecessarily excluding some of society's most vulnerable we should be doing everything we can to make their life easier and I hope this letter pressurises the EU to live up to its commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by supporting the WBU treaty in these WIPO negotiations."