COMMUNICATIONS NEWS: RNIB faces final hurdle in copyright challenge

Copyright law is likely to be radically changed later this year to make it easier for blind and partially sighted people to get hold of braille and large print books.

It would be a victory for the RNIB but the Publishers Licensing Society has described the development as "scary".

Legislation currently before Parliament proposes that permission will not be needed from publishers before turning written material into braille and other accessible formats. Blind and visually impaired people will be able to read the same material as everyone else, and fewer blind students are likely to drop out of courses through not being able to access the textbooks, says the RNIB.

But publishers are concerned that the new legislation may set a dangerous precedent. Jens Bammel, chief executive of the Publishers Licensing Society, said: "The legislation allows anyone - it's very loosely defined - to make entire copies of work. This is very scary from our perspective."

In the past, many publishers have granted permission for braille and other adaptations, but others have either refused outright or created delays. Caroline Ellis, the RNIB's parliamentary officer, said this wasn't good enough: "There always will be people who won't co-operate. We haven't got 20 years to go round and get them all to sing from the same hymn sheet, and that's how long it would take,

she said.

The RNIB sponsored and helped draft the "Right to Read

Bill (Copyright Visually Impaired Person's Bill), which recently passed its second reading in the Commons and therefore has a good chance of becoming law in this Parliament.

A three-year RNIB consensus-building campaign meant that the bill passed "with not a single voice of dissent", according to Ellis. She added that earlier RNIB lobbying of the European Commission had already forced the Government to accept that legislation was needed in principle, but had not tied it to a deadline this parliament.

The Right to Read campaign was co-ordinated by Steve Winyard, head of public policy at the RNIB.

MP Rachel Squire, who tabled the Private Members Bill, said: "I'm hopeful that this will become law - inevitably there will be some concerns from publishers associations, but we have taken a lot of those into account - this is the twentieth draft."

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