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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: