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Marrakesh Treaty Enters Into Force in the United States

Today, May 8, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) administered Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled enters into force in the United States.  The United States Senate ratified the Marrakesh Treaty last summer and the United States House of Representatives passed the implementing legislation in September 2018.  Following the United States’ deposit of its instrument of ratification with WIPO on February 8 and the subsequent three month period prescribed in the treaty, the treaty is now in force in the United States.

The Marrakesh Treaty is designed to address the “book famine” problem in which it has been estimated that only between 1 and 7% of all published works are ever created in an accessible format for those that are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled.  The Marrakesh Treaty sets forth minimum standards for limitations and exceptions to facilitate access to accessible format works.  It 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.  The cross-border provision also facilitates importation of works created in other languages.

As an organization dedicated to achieving enduring and barrier-free access to information, ARL celebrates this milestone in the United States.  Libraries, as authorized entities, play a critical role not only in serving their own patrons, but also in facilitating cross-border exchange of accessible format works.  The United States is one of 55 contracting parties and countries from every region of the world are members of the Marrakesh Treaty.  Canada previously joined the Marrakesh Treaty in 2016 and, significantly, was the 20th ratifying or acceding country which triggered the entry into force of the Treaty itself.  A number of other ratifications are also currently underway.

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.

 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing on the Marrakesh Treaty for Persons With Print Disabilities

On March 15, 2018, the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (S. 2559) was introduced in the US Senate by Judiciary Committee Chair Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member Feinstein (D-CA), Foreign Relations Committee Chair Corker (R-TN), Ranking Member Menendez (D-NJ), and Senators Hatch (R-UT), Harris (D-CA), and Leahy (D-VT), to ratify and implement the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (ARL’s press release on the introduction of the implementing legislation is available here).  Today, April 18, 2018, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the Marrakesh Treaty.  Witnesses include Manisha Singh (Department of State), Allan Adler (Association of American Publishers), Scott LaBarre (National Federation for the Blind) and Jonathan Band (Library Copyright Alliance).

The Marrakesh Treaty, concluded in June 2013 and signed by the United States in October 2013, provides minimum standards for limitations and exceptions to copyright law to create and distribute accessible formats for people with print disabilities and allows for the cross-border exchange of these formats. The treaty is designed to address the “book famine,” a problem where less than 5% of all published works are created in an accessible format in the United States, a figure that drops considerably in some developing countries. The treaty is in force, with 35 contracting parties, currently: Argentina, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Israel, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay.

The implementing legislation makes some technical changes to Section 121 of the Copyright Act, including expanding the scope of works that may be reproduced and distributed to dramatic works or musical compositions fixed in text or notation. Section 121 would apply for domestic activity regarding the creation and distribution of accessible format works. The bill also creates a new Section 121A to address activities involving cross-border exchange.

Ratification and implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty is critical to improving access to information and culture for those who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. The treaty will not only assist those living in countries with extremely limited collections of accessible formats, but will provide significant benefits to those in the United States. The United States will be able to enhance its own collections of accessible format works, through exchange with countries with a common language, such as Australia and Canada, but will also benefit from the ability to import works in a foreign language, such as the nearly 50,000 accessible titles from Argentina.

ARL urges the Senate to quickly ratify the treaty, which will greatly enhance the ability of libraries and other authorized entities to serve those with print disabilities. Ratification and the implementing legislation is supported by a broad group of stakeholders, including organizations representing those who are blind, libraries and authorized entities and publishers.

For additional reading:

Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Print Disabled to Enter Into Force

Today, June 30, 2016, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled Reached its 20th ratification and will enter into force on September 30, 2016.

Yesterday, WIPO received the ratification documents from Ecuador and Guatemala and today Canada deposited its instrument of accession to the Marrakesh Treaty.  With these three ratifications, the treaty now has twenty ratifications and countries from nearly every region have ratified including: ArgentinaAustraliaBrazil, ChileEl Salvador, India, Israel, Mali, MexicoMongolia, North Korea, Paraguay,PeruSingapore, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.  The twentieth ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty occurred just over three years from when WIPO concluded the diplomatic conference and adopted the treaty.

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.

WIPO’s press release on this historic moment is available here.

 

Chile Becomes 17th Country to Ratify Marrakesh Treaty

Chile recently became the seventeenth country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Faciltiate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.  Countries from nearly every region have ratified the treaty including: Argentina, AustraliaBrazilEl Salvador, India, Israel, Mali, MexicoMongolia, North Korea, Paraguay, PeruSingapore, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.  The Marrakesh Treaty requires twenty ratifications before it enters into force and only three more countries are needed.

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.

With Chile’s ratification, eight countries in Latin America have now joined and will be able to share their accessible formats across borders.  Argentina has a relatively large collection of accessible formats available through TifloLibros which will benefit those in other Spanish speaking countries.  Should the United States ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, these ratifications in Latin American countries will be of great benefit to those who are print disabled in the United States that speak Spanish.  According to a 2015 study based on US census data, the United States has more Spanish speakers than Spain; only Mexico has a larger Spanish speaking population.

Of course, ratification would not only benefit those in the United States (such as those requiring accessible formats in Spanish), but also individuals with print disabilities in other countries who could import books from the relatively large collections of accessible formats in the United States.

While the Obama Administration sent the Marrakesh Treaty to the U.S. Senate in February of this year, it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing or vote.  Earlier this year, Canada tabled Bill C-11 to prepare for implementation and accession to the Marrakesh Treaty though it also has not yet come up for a vote.

Canada Introduces Legislation Preparing for Accession to the Marrakesh Treaty (Take Two)

In June 2015, proposed amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act were introduced in the House of Commons. These amendments, contained in Bill C-65, the Support for Canadians with Print Disabilities Act, were designed to 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”), but was not acted on before the elections.

On March 24, 2016, Bill C-11, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act (access to copyrighted works or other subject-matter for persons with perceptual disabilities) was introduced.  This bill would likewise prepare for implementation and accession.  The Canadian government previously 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-61 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-11 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.

In most other areas (with the exception of language on circumvention of technological measures), changes were not made to the existing exception that allows the creation and distribution of accessible format works.

Introduction of Bill C-11 in Canada is a first step in acceding to the Marrakesh Treaty. The Marrakesh Treaty currently has 16 ratifications and will need 4 more for entry into force. In the United States, the Administration sent the Treaty for ratification along with implementing legislation in February of this year.

 

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.

Sixteen Organizations Join Letter Supporting Rapid Ratification of Marrakesh Treaty

ARL, together with fifteen other organizations including library associations, blind and disability groups, authorized entities and non-profit advocacy organizations, joined a statement supporting rapid ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty.  The Obama Administration sent the Marrakesh Treaty to the Senate on February 10, 2016 and the letter calls on the Senate to ratify the Treaty and for the House and Senate  to pass the Marrakesh Implementation Act.  The Treaty 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 statement notes:

We believe the Treaty is consistent with United States law and could be ratified without any changes to existing statutes or regulations.

Notwithstanding this view, we are prepared to support the legislative package as proposed by the Administration because it makes minimal changes to the law and its consideration would, we trust, facilitate early Senate consent to ratification. We are confident that the focused and narrow changes that have been proposed are enough to satisfy the terms of the Marrakesh Treaty. We believe any effort to make any other changes in US law, beyond those proposed by the Administration, would unnecessarily delay and jeopardize the ratification of this treaty. Blind and otherwise print disabled Americans have waited far too long for equal access to printed materials.

We call upon the Senate to consent to ratification without any reservations, understandings or declarations. We further encourage Congress to hold hearings expeditiously and to enact the implementing legislation along with the suggested legislative history as currently drafted, without delay. If the Treaty is ratified and the legislation adopted, the blind and otherwise print disabled of our nation will benefit greatly by having access to the rest of the world’s accessible book collection and the blind and otherwise print disabled of the world will advance their quest for greater information through access to books in the United States.

The full Joint Statement Supporting Marrakesh Treaty Ratification is available here.

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.

Two More Countries Ratify the Marrakesh Treaty

At the most recent meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), two more countries deposited their instruments of ratification for the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (“Marrakesh Treaty“): Australia and Brazil.  With these recent additions, thirteen countries have now ratified and only seven more are needed for the Marrakesh Treaty to enter into force.  The Marrakesh Treaty is expected to gain enough ratifications to enter into force in 2016.  Countries previously ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty include: Argentina, El Salvador, India, Mali, MexicoMongolia, Paraguay, Singapore, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

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.  While the United States signed the Treaty in October 2013, signaling an intention to ratify, the Obama Administration has not yet sent the Treaty to the US Senate for ratification.  ARL remains hopeful that Canada and the United States can demonstrate leadership on this issue and be among the first twenty countries to ratify the treaty, though other countries appear to be moving swiftly toward ratification as well.