Tag Archives: judiciary committee

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.

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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.


Civil Agencies, Law Enforcement Officials Threaten Meaningful ECPA Reform

On May 24, 2016, ARL joined a coalition of civil society organizations, companies and trade associations in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Leahy supporting the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699) as passed unanimously by the House of Representatives on April 26, 2016.  While the House-passed bill did not make all necessary reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), it represents a big step forward by imposing a warrant-for-content rule.  Importantly, the H.R. 699 did not include a civil agency carveout, ensuring that civil agencies do not have warrantless access to online communications such as e-mails or documents stored in the cloud.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is a law from 1986 governing privacy for online communications and has long been in need of reform. ECPA was written in an era in which few individuals owned computers, most did not use e-mail, services like Facebook did not exist, and “the cloud” had not yet transformed the way people communicate and work. It reflects a poor understanding of the digital age and has clearly not kept pace with evolving technologies. ECPA allows the government to seize online documents and communications older than 180 days without a warrant, leading to an absurdity that grants greater protection to hard copy documents than to digital communication.  Essentially, ECPA reform seeks to ensure that the 4th Amendment applies equally to the digital age as it does to the analog world, requiring a warrant for the content of documents and communications.

Civil agencies, primarily the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), have repeatedly sought an exemption from the ECPA reforms and continue to do so as the Senate Judiciary Committee considers a vote.  These agencies would like to compel third-party providers to disclose the content of personal communications without a warrant, increasing their power beyond the existing tools they have at their disposal such as subpoenas.   Such an exemption threatens the reasonable expectation of privacy.

In addition to civil agencies seeking carveouts, law enforcement officials would like to broaden the emergency exceptions language in the ECPA reform bill despite the fact that current law already permits service providers to release information where there is an emergency involving the danger of death or serious physical injury.  Expansion of existing law in this area could be subject to abuse by government and law enforcement agencies who may try to overreach to access data.

ECPA is in serious need of reform and the Email Privacy Act passed last month by the House of Representatives–without modification or amendment–represents the appropriate vehicle to move reform forward.