Offering the chance to all citizens to have access to the books we publish is now made easier by appropriate technology developed together by representatives of the Visually Impaired Persons’ community and the book world. More and more e-books are made accessible from the outset. It may seem simple – however, for many genres, accessibility raises some challenges which are best addressed at early production stages and with specialised staff. It is our joint challenge to work towards the greatest accessibility possible and, for those works that cannot be made accessible, to cooperate with the organisations serving the persons with disabilities so that these books are also accessible.

Note this date – 28 June 2025. On this date, European legislation (called the “European Accessibility Act”, passed a month before the much better-known “Copyright in the Digital Single Market”) will apply to all e-books sold in the European Union (save a few exceptions such as e-books published by micro-enterprises* or which would require a fundamental alteration or for which accessibility would represent a disproportionate burden).

This applies not just to e-books published in the European Union, but to e-books from all over the world being sold to European citizens. So, how do we get there? Two paths. First, raise awareness. Second, train publishers. Raising awareness, as even today some publishers around Europe and many more around the globe are unaware of their future obligations.

So, during the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair, FEP and IPA organised a webinar with the participation of the European Commission and the World Intellectual Property Organisation as well as experts for the publishing sector and the whole e-book chain.

In 2021, both organisations will again put their forces together to inform publishers about their obligations and give them hints on the way forward. The webinar is foreseen for 20 October. More information on our social media and website closer to the date. Raise awareness – take two: an ad hoc group was formed at the request of FEP members to discuss some interpretations of the legislation and to exchange best practices. The group has met every two months and is open to all FEP members. The group is also liaising with the Commission to exchange on its work and to support the current open formats as technical specifications as opposed to starting a new standardisation process (lengthy and possibly counter-productive).

Training publishers is obviously not something entering into FEP competences, yet we must be supportive of the various efforts happening in Europe. We can do that by coordinating with them: for example, by liaising with an Erasmus+ project aimed at producing open learning resources for the publishing sector or by organising a LIA webinar for FEP members on 1 June. Everyone involved in a training programme is welcomed to share it with FEP, so that we can all together move towards the goal of increased accessibility.

While we are doing all this positive, effective work to reach the objectives - at least for e-books - of allowing all readers to access an e-book at the same time and under the same conditions, the European Commission is considering 30 whether the current implementation of the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty (consisting of exceptions for visually impaired persons) is sufficient or whether it should be expanded to other works than the currently covered print works, or other disabilities.

FEP’s answer was loud and clear, as with the European Accessibility Act: the issue will be mostly addressed for e-books. We stressed that instead of considering whether to open the Treaty’s implementation in Europe, the Commission should reflect on whether the implementation of this Directive has had a significant negative impact on the commercial availability of works in accessible formats for beneficiary persons (as foreseen by the text in a report expected in 2023), especially in light of the increasing number of titles both accessible and commercially available.

FEP keeps in touch with the Commission on this issue. *A micro-enterprise is a business employing fewer than 10 people, and with an annual turnover or a total balance sheet which does not surpass 2 million Euros.