EU Cleared to Ratify Treaty That Will Help Blind Readers

(CN) – The European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that EU administrators have the authority to ratify a treaty giving visually impaired people access to published works regardless of copyright, rejecting calls by eight member states to be included in the process.

EU lawmakers authorized the European Commission to negotiate the Marrakesh Treaty with the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2012. Once signed, the treaty would obligate the 28 EU member states to require government institutions and nonprofits that provide education, instructional training, adaptive reading or information access to reproduce and distribute copyrighted works in a format visually impaired people can access – with or without the copyright holder’s permission.

After the negotiations, the commission then asked the EU high court whether it could ratify the treaty on behalf of the EU or whether the member states had to participate in the process. Eight states – Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Romania and the United Kingdom – filed opposition papers arguing member states can’t be shut out of any treaty process, and that the EU lacks competence to enter into treaties on its own.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, the Luxembourg-based high court agreed member states have to be involved in finalizing treaties connected to common commercial policy and international trade. But the Marrakesh Treaty doesn’t fall within either parameter, the court said.

Instead, the treaty’s sole aim is to improve access to published works for visually impaired people – and the fact that it only applies to government agencies and nonprofits further limits the commercial scope, the court said.

The court also noted that EU copyright law already allows member states to limit authors’ rights for the benefit of people with disabilities. Since the treaty would make that allowance – created and signed into law by EU lawmakers – a requirement, the EU has the authority to sign the treaty that changes its law without member state input, the court ruled.


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