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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.

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.