The annals of copyright are littered with acts of extraordinary stupidity and selfishness on the part of the publishers, recording industry and film studios. But few can match the refusal by the publishing industry to make it easier for the blind to gain access to reading material that would otherwise be blocked by copyright laws. Indeed, the fact that it took so long for what came to be known as the Marrakesh Treaty to be adopted is a shameful testimony to the publishing industry’s belief that copyright maximalism is more important than the rights of the visually impaired. As James Love, Director of Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), wrote in 2013, when the treaty was finally adopted:
It difficult to comprehend why this treaty generated so much opposition from publishers and patent holders, and why it took five years to achieve this result. As we celebrate and savor this moment, we should thank all of those who resisted the constant calls to lower expectations and accept an outcome far less important than what was achieved today.
Even once the treaty was agreed, the publishing industry continued to fight against making it easier for the visually impaired to enjoy better access to books. In 2016, Techdirt reported that the Association of American Publishers was still lobbying to water down the US ratification package. Fortunately, as an international treaty, the Marrakesh Treaty came into force around the world anyway, despite the US foot-dragging.
Thanks to heavy lobbying by the region’s publishers, the EU has been just as bad. It only formally ratified the Marrakesh Treaty in October of this year. As an article on the IPKat blog explains, the EU has the authority to sign and ratify treaties on behalf of the EU Member States, but it then requires the treaty to be implemented in national law:
In this case, the EU asked that national legislators reform their domestic copyright law by transposing the 2017/1564 Directive of 13 September 2017. The Directive requires that all necessary national measures be implemented by 12 October 2018. Not all member states complied by this deadline, whereby the EU Commission introduced infringement procedures against them for non-compliance. The list of the non-compliant countries is as follows:
Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Finland, France, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, UK
The IPKat post points out that some of the countries listed there, such as the UK and France, have in fact introduced exceptions to copyright to enable the making of accessible copies to the visually impaired. It’s still a bit of mystery why they are on the list:
At the moment, the Commission has not published details regarding the claimed non-compliance by the countries listed. We cannot assume that the non-compliance proceedings were launched because the countries failed to introduce the exceptions in full, because countries can also be sanctioned if the scope of the exception implemented is too broad, so much so that it is disproportionately harmful to the interest of rightsholders. So we will have to wait and see what part of the implementation was deemed not up to scratch by the Commission.
As that indicates, it’s possible that some of the countries mentioned are being criticized for non-compliance because they were too generous to the visually impaired. If it turns out that industry lobbyists are behind this, it would be yet another astonishing demonstration of selfishness from publishers whose behavior in connection with the Marrakesh Treaty has been nothing short of disgusting.