Tag Archives: disabilities

Four More Marrakesh Treaty Ratifications Needed For Entry Into Force

At last check-in in December, thirteen countries had ratified the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.  Today, that number stands at sixteen, with the recent ratifications of Israel, North Korea and Peru.  AustraliaArgentina, BrazilEl Salvador, India, Mali, MexicoMongolia, Paraguay, Singapore, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay ratified the treaty previously.  The Marrakesh Treaty needs twenty ratifications to enter into force and will, in all likelihood, reach this threshold this year with several countries reportedly close to ratification.

The Marrakesh Treaty sets forth minimum standards for limitations and exceptions to facilitate access to accessible format works.  It would also permit cross-border sharing of these accessible formats, allowing countries to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts and resources in the creation of these accessible works.  Additionally, the Treaty would facilitate importation of works created in other languages.

Bill C-65 in Canada was introduced in June in preparation for accession to the Marrakesh Treaty, but has not been voted on.  The Obama Administration sent the Marrakesh Treaty to the U.S. Senate in February of this year, though it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing or vote.

Obama Administration Sends Marrakesh Treaty to Senate for Ratification

On Wednesday, February 10, 2016, the Obama Administration sent the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled to the U.S. Senate for ratification.  The Marrakesh Treaty, concluded in June 2013 and signed by the United States in October 2013, provides minimum standards for limitations and exceptions to create and distribute accessible formats for the print disabled and allows for the cross-border exchange of these formats.

The 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 ability to import works from other English speaking countries would aid in growing the collection of accessible formats in the United States and avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts in creation of these formats.  Additionally, the Marrakesh Treaty allows the import of works in other languages for those in the United States who do not speak English as a first language or for those learning a foreign language.  It would also provide significant benefits to those in developing countries, which generally have an even smaller number of accessible formats available, who could import works from the relatively larger collections in the United States and elsewhere.

President Obama’s Message to the Senate notes that the Treaty “advances the national interest of the United States in promoting the protection and enjoyment of creative works.  The Marrakesh Treaty lays a foundation, in a manner consistent with existing international copyright standards, for opening up a world of knowledge for persons with print disabilities by improving their access to published works.”

ARL applauds the Obama Administration’s transmission of the Marrakesh Treaty to the United States Senate and urges swift ratification of this Treaty.   The Marrakesh Treaty needs 20 ratifications to enter into force; it currently has 14 ratifications and ARL urges the United States to demonstrate its leadership in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities by becoming one of the first 20 countries to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty.

As previously noted by the Library Copyright Alliance, U.S. law complies with the Marrakesh Treaty and can be ratified without changes to current law.  The transmission of the Marrakesh Treaty to the Senate, however, included proposed changes to U.S. law.  ARL looks forward to reviewing these proposed amendments which are not yet publicly available.

On the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ARL Urges Swift Ratification of Marrakesh Treaty

On Sunday, July 26, 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 25th anniversary.  The ADA, authored and sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and passed with strong bi-partisan support, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability including with respect to education and employment.  The ADA covers a wide range of disabilities and ensures that the civil rights of those with disabilities are protected.  This landmark piece of legislation represented world leadership in the area of promoting the rights of those with disabilities.

ARL has long supported the ADA and efforts to improve accessibility.  Those who are visually impaired or hearing impaired, for example, may face significant obstacles in attaining access to information or culture.  Those with physical disabilities may face limitations in accessing physical spaces.  The ADA helps to promote greater accessibility and protect the rights of those with disabilities.

As the United States celebrates this landmark piece of legislation and the many successes that the ADA has produced, continued efforts are needed to promote the rights of those with disabilities. The United States has a clear and concrete way to improve the rights of the print disabled by improving access to improving access to accessible format works.

In July 2013, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) concluded a diplomatic conference resulting in the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Those Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. The Marrakesh Treaty creates minimum standards for copyright limitations and exceptions for the creation and distribution of accessible formats and allows for the cross-border exchange of these formats. The cross-border exchange is a critical feature and could greatly alleviate what is known as the “book famine,” a situation in which the National Federation for the Blind estimates that no more than 5 percent of published works are created in an accessible format. The ability to import works from other English speaking countries would aid in growing the collection of accessible format works in the United States and avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts in the creation of these formats. Perhaps of even greater benefit would be the ability to import works in other languages for those in the United States who do not speak English as a first language, such as large populations of Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, German, Italian, Korean or Vietnamese speaking individuals. It would also benefit those who are learning foreign languages. Significantly, the treaty would allow those in developing countries, which generally have an even smaller number of accessible formats available, to import works from the relatively larger collections in the United States and elsewhere.

In order for the Marrakesh Treaty to enter into force, twenty countries must ratify or accede to the treaty. Currently, nine countries – Argentina, El Salvador, India, Mali, Mongolia, Paraguay, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay – have ratified and eleven more are needed.

The United States signed the Marrakesh Treaty in October 2013, signaling support for and an intention to ratify the treaty, but the Obama Administration has not yet sent the treaty to the US Senate for ratification. The United States should show leadership and be one of the first twenty countries to ratify the treaty. While the ADA has been a great success and 25 years of ensuring the civil rights of those with disabilities is a moment for celebration, more can still be done to improve the lives of those with disabilities.

Bill to Amend Canada’s Copyright Act in Preparation for Accession to the Marrakesh Treaty Tabled in the House of Commons

On June 8, 2015, proposed amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act were tabled in the House of Commons. These amendments, contained in Bill C-65, the Support for Canadians with Print Disabilities Act, would amend the Copyright Act in order to prepare for implementation of and accession to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (“Marrakesh Treaty”).

This bill follows the April 21, 2015 budget proposal, which signaled an intention to amend the Copyright Act and accede to the Marrakesh Treaty. In that proposal, the Canadian government noted that accession to the Marrakesh Treaty would benefit the approximately 1 million blind or visually impaired Canadians.

Under Canada’s Copyright Act, Article 32 provides a limitation to allow for the creation and distribution of accessible format works for those with disabilities. The current provision broadly permits the creation of an accessible work for persons with a perceptual disability. It does not, however, permit the creation of a large print book. The current exception applies only where an accessible format is not commercially available. A non-profit organization may export an accessible format copy, but only where the author of the work is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident or a citizen or permanent resident of the country to which the copy is being sent. Copies may not be exported where the organization knows or has reasonable grounds to know that an accessible format is available in that country within a reasonable time and for a reasonable price. Royalties are owed by the organization making or sending the accessible format copy. The current copyright law also has an exception to the prohibition against circumvention of technological protection measures, but only where it does not “unduly impair” the technological protection measure.

Bill C-65 makes several changes to Article 32. One of the most significant changes is that it removes the prohibition on the creation of large print format as an accessible copy. Large print is an important type of accessible format because many of those who are visually impaired do not require audio formats or may not read Braille. For example, with age, individuals often require larger print. The Marrakesh Treaty broadly defines an “accessible format copy” and the removal of the prohibition against large print in Article 32, complies with the Treaty and will greatly benefit an aging population.

Another key change would allow the sending of accessible formats to other countries, regardless of the nationality of the authors of the works. Bill C-65 allows for the export of accessible format works to both Marrakesh Treaty countries as well as non-Marrakesh Treaty countries. It would allow for injunctions, but not damages, where the accessible format was exported to a country where it was commercially available within a reasonable time, for a reasonable price and located with reasonable effort. Where a work is exported to a Marrakesh Treaty country, the owner of the copyright bears the burden of demonstrating commercial availability. Where a work is exported to a non-Marrakesh Treaty country, the non-profit organization must also show that it had reasonable grounds to believe that it was not commercially available.

Additionally, Bill C-65 permits circumvention of technological protection measures, removing the condition that the technological protection measure not be unduly impaired. It instead provides that circumvention is permitted for the sole purpose of enabling those with perceptual disabilities, or non-profit organizations who serve them, to access accessible formats of the work.

Introduction of Bill C-65 is a key first step in acceding to the Marrakesh Treaty. The Marrakesh Treaty currently has 8 ratifications and will need 12 more for entry into force. In the United States, the Administration has been working on preparing its ratification package, but it has not yet been submitted to Congress.

ARL and ALA File Comments Opposing E-Reader Waiver Extension and Disability Tax

On October 27, 2014, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the American Library Association (ALA) filed comments* with the FCC opposing the petition for waiver extension by e-reader manufacturers. On January 28, 2014, the FCC granted a one-year waiver of its advanced communication services (ACS) accessibility rules for “basic e-readers” considered to be “single-purpose reading devices that consumers use for accessing text-based works (i.e., reading), not for other purposes such as ACS.” The e-reader manufacturers recently filed a petition requesting an extension of this waiver, which essentially creates a tax for disabled persons purchasing basic e-reader devices.

In the filing, ARL and ALA explain how basic e-readers are used, including for “co-primary uses” which allow the user to connect to the Internet and use the device to communicate with others via e-mail and social media services. ARL and ALA oppose the extension of the waiver, noting that denying the e-reader manufacturers’ petition “is consistent with the public interest. Finally, ARL and ALA argue that if a waiver is extended, that the FCC should narrow the scope of the waiver class and limit its duration. The full comments can be found here.

The comments focus on heavily on the public interest, noting:

As discussed above, the Kindles and other basic e-readers are capable of accessing ACS in potentially very convenient and useful ways. Access to these features on these devices, by disabled persons weighs heavily in the public interest. A denial of the waiver extension will increase public access to ACS through the Coalition’s e-readers. By requiring that the Coalition include accessible ACS functionality with the browser, the Commission will be supporting increased access for print-disabled members of the public through universally designed devices available to all consumers

Appallingly, the e-reader manufacturers defend their request for extension by arguing that persons with disabilities can purchase a more expensive device to address accessibility needs. ARL and ALA also point out that this proposal effectively creates a disability tax. Furthermore, not only would the proposal require a disabled person to pay more for a device with accessibility features, but such devices also have drawbacks such as heavier weight and less battery life:

Under the current e-reader ACS regime proposed by the Coalition and tentatively adopted by the Commission, disabled persons must pay a ‘device access tax’. By availing oneself of one of the ‘accessible options’ as suggested by the Coalition, a disabled person would pay at minimum $20 more a device for a Kindle tablet that is heavier and has less battery life than a basic Kindle e-reader. There is also some irony that the Commission’s current waiver rules would suggest that a blind person would need to purchase a device that is marketed for its screen with a high refresh rate, high resolution, and vibrantly colored screen in order to get the proper accessibility. In order to get the features that they do need, the blind will be forced to pay for an array of features from which they cannot benefit. It is completely inappropriate to ‘tax’ those with disabilities who seek information on the same terms at the sighted. By requiring that all of the Coalition’s products include accessible ACS, it opens a market for the print-disabled for the same e-readers at the same price points as for other sectors of the public.

ARL and ALA oppose extension of the waiver, but suggest that if the Commission does extend it, the Commission should amend the current waiver class and ensure that the extension is time-limited. ARL and ALA note that the “the current slate of basic e-readers offered by Coalition members do not fall under even this overly-expansive waiver class, sufficient evidence and the public interest weigh heavily in favor of modif[ication].” The comments suggest that one of the requirements be amended to read “the device is not offered or shipped to consumers with built-in ACS client applications, including any browser, and the device manufacturer does not develop ACS applications for its respective device” so that those e-reader devices that have a co-primary uses, such as to access e-mails, are not exempted. The comments note that with this amendment, “Any truly single purpose non-ACS devices will still fall under the proposed waiver class should the Coalition seek waiver in the future.”

*These comments were prepared in collaboration with students from American University Washington College of Law’s Glushko-Samuleson Intellectual Property Law Clinic*