In order to be full participants in the society they live in, people who have visual impairments must be afforded alternative means of accessing books, magazines, and other printed materials. Students need access to textbooks. Employees need access to publications related to their chosen work, and all of us need access to the books and magazines that influence the cultural life of our communities. Although advances in technology in recent years have given people with visual impairments many more options for accessing printed materials in accessible formats, the World Blind Union estimates that we still have access to only about five percent of the books published worldwide each year. In parts of the world that are less developed, less than one percent of published works are accessible to people with print-reading disabilities. This situation persists in spite of provisions in copyright law in countries such as the U.S. that allow producers of accessible format books to publish and distribute such accessible format works to people with print-reading disabilities. There are several reasons for this. First, with a very few exceptions, copyright laws in countries worldwide, including our own, only allow producers of accessible format books to distribute them to eligible persons within their own country. These works cannot be exported. Also, our libraries cannot import works produced abroad without risking violation of copyright laws, both here and in the exporting country.
In an effort to remedy this situation, the World Intellectual Property Organization adopted the Treaty to Facilitate Access to Printed Material for People Who Are Blind or Have Other Print Reading Disabilities. This treaty is known as the Marrakesh Treaty, because it was adopted at a diplomatic conference held in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2013.
The Marrakesh Treaty received broad support from not only blindness organizations, but publishers and copyright law experts throughout the U.S. and around the world. It was signed by the United States on October 2, 2013.
The Marrakesh Treaty is important to Americans who are visually impaired because it calls upon those nations who sign it to provide in their copyright law a limitation or exception that allows:
- Reproduction of works, by an authorized entity, for the purpose of converting them into accessible format copies exclusively for the use of beneficiary persons.
- Distribution of accessible format copies exclusively to beneficiary persons.
- Export of accessible format copies of works, in order to make them available to a beneficiary person in another country.
- Import of accessible format copies of works produced in another country, in order to make them available domestically.
In practical terms, this means that libraries and other organizations that produce accessible format copies of works for distribution to people with print-reading disabilities will be able to share those works with each other. That will ultimately free up resources that are currently used to make multiple copies of the same work, so that more publications can be put into accessible formats. The treaty contains provisions that protect both the rights of copyright holders and those who want to gain access to their copyrighted works.
ACB urges members of the U.S. Senate to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty. We urge senators to adopt a ratification package that is narrow, protects the spirit of the treaty, and does not attempt to use this treaty as a vehicle for addressing extraneous issues of copyright law that could undermine the desired result: increased access to printed materials for people with print-reading disabilities.
For further information, contact Eric Bridges, Director of External Relations and Policy, American Council of the Blind, (202) 467-5081, firstname.lastname@example.org.