Marrakesh Treaty Unanimously Supported by U.S. Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees

The United States is moving closer toward ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty).  The Marrakesh Treaty is a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) based treaty that was adopted in June 2013, and went into force in September 2016 when Canada triggered entry into force as the 20th country ratifying or acceding to the treaty.  The Marrakesh Treaty provides minimum standards for limitations and exceptions to create and distribute accessible format works for persons who are blind or print disabled, and also allows for cross-border exchange of accessible formats. Cross-border exchange is a critical feature of the treaty and could greatly alleviate what is known as the “book famine,” a situation in which the National Federation of the Blind estimates that no more than 5 percent of published works are created in an accessible format.

The United States Senate has been actively considering the Marrakesh Treaty, and the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (S.2559) was introduced by a bipartisan group of Senators on March 28, 2018, including Foreign Relations Committee Chair Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Menendez (D-NJ), Judiciary Committee Chair Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Feinstein (D-CA), and Senators Hatch (R-UT), Harris (D-CA) and Leahy (D-VT).

During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on April 18, 2018, witnesses included Manisha Singh (Department of State), Allan Adler (Association of American Publishers), Scott LaBarre (National Federation for the Blind) and Jonathan Band (Library Copyright Alliance). During the hearing, Singh said that ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty was a “win for everyone,” and pointed out that it would allow people with print disabilities in the United States access to 350,000 additional works that they do not currently have access to.  She noted that while 35 other countries have ratified the treaty (now 37), none of the current parties have the breadth of the collections in the United States. Members of the Committee and the witnesses repeatedly noted that there is no known opposition to the Marrakesh Treaty.

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act unanimously out of committee on May 10, 2018. Chairman Grassley’s prepared statement noted:

I’m glad we’re considering S. 2559 today, a bill to implement the Marrakesh Treaty. The United States signed the treaty in October 2013 to facilitate access to published works for blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled persons. The Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the Treaty and is planning to move on the Treaty’s ratification process.

The Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act is a consensus bill that was developed by both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees with stakeholders within the publisher, library and print disabilities communities. We did this in consultation with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Copyright Office. As such, the bill enjoys the support of all these stakeholders, as well as other interested industry, copyright and public interest stakeholders. I particularly want to commend the National Federation of the Blind, the Association of American Publishers, and the Library Copyright Alliance for working with us in reaching an agreement on legislative text and proposed legislative history. We would not be here today without their efforts.

[ . . . ]

S. 2559 would go a long way in helping to give people with print disabilities—here in the United States and all over the world—greater access to materials in formats such as braille, large print and specialized digital audio files. It is a bipartisan, consensus bill that enjoys widespread support. It is supported by the copyright community as well as by the Administration.

Today, May 22, 2018, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee followed suit and also reported the treaty out of committee unanimously.  The Marrakesh Treaty will now go to the full Senate for consideration and needs at least a 2/3 majority to pass.  ARL urges the full Senate to support the Marrakesh Treaty, which will promote access to knowledge for those who are bind, visually impaired or print disabled both in the United States and abroad.