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Brussels, 14 September, 2010

Copyright: Commissioner Barnier welcomes agreement on greater access to books for the visually impaired

Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, presided today over the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on access to works for dyslexic or visually impaired readers The signing of this Memorandum marks an important and concrete step to increase the number of books that visually impaired persons can enjoy for study or leisure. The agreement outlines a system whereby works in accessible formats, such as Braille and audio books, can be much more easily distributed across the EU Member States. It is hoped that noticeable increases in cross-border distribution will be possible within a year. The Memorandum of Understanding is an important step in realising one of the objectives of the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200), namely enabling people with disabilities to gain full access to the benefits of the digital society.

"Today's agreement shows what Europe truly stands for: an Internal Market that not only promotes culture but also caters for the needs of people with special needs or disabilities. I wholeheartedly endorse this initiative which is an example of what Europe can achieve by engaging with civil society. It is important that visually impaired citizens, can have access to the same books at the same time and at the same price all other citizens." Commissioner Barnier stated at today's signing ceremony

Although all EU Member States have put in place exceptions to copyright for the benefit of dyslexic or visually impaired readers, these exceptions vary and make cross-border distribution complicated. The Memorandum of Understanding will alleviate this situation with a system of distribution through Trusted Intermediaries, who can be institutions such as associations for the blind, libraries and special schools. The Memorandum also sets out a system of mutual recognition among Trusted Intermediaries so that the registered persons will be able to access books from all over the EU.

The Memorandum of Understanding also supports publishers in their goal of making the production of accessible works an integral part of publishing.

The Memorandum was written and agreed among a group of organisations representing both sides: organisations representing people with print disabilities on one side, and the European publishing industry on the other.


The foundations for the Memorandum of Understanding were laid in the Commission's Green Paper entitled "Copyright in the Knowledge Economy" (see IP/08/1156). In this consultation document, the Commission drew attention to the difficulty faced by visually impaired and reading disabled persons to access books: there are currently 17.5 million people living in the EU that are visually impaired, while at least 5% of the EU population suffers from some form of dyslexia. It is estimated by some that only 5% of all published books, whether educational, fiction or non-fiction, are published in formats that enable visually impaired persons to read.

Since the main problems identified in the responses received in the public consultation of the Green Paper focused on technology and formatting as well as the absence of cross-border availability of special format works, the European Commission, in its ensuing Communication (see IP/09/1544) recommended the establishment of a stakeholder dialogue at EU level. Duly established in December 2009, this Dialogue group brought together people from the technology sector, publishers, writers, collecting societies, libraries and representatives of the European Commission. Following several meetings since its inception, an agreement was reached that culminated in the Memorandum that was signed today. In order to ensure success on the ground, the signatories will engage in monitoring of the Memorandum and in submitting a first implementation report within a years' time.

Improving the range of accessible works for visually impaired people is also a project pursued at the international level at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva. The European Union is participating actively in these discussions and, as a first step, has proposed a Joint Recommendations by the Members of WIPO aimed at ensuring cross-border access to copyright works for visually impaired persons. Many of the participants in the EU Dialogue are also directly or indirectly involved in the WIPO Stakeholder Platform.

More information,including an audio version of this press release:

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