June 28 marks the one year anniversary of the completion of a diplomatic conference to facilitate access to published works for blind, visually impaired and print disabled people. Known as the Marrakesh Treaty, its purpose is to address the book famine that currently exists with respect to anyone of limited reading capability, by: (i) facilitating creation of appropriately formatted materials with the use of exceptions to copyright; and (ii) allowing countries to share materials, thereby reducing costs all round. Hailed as the Miracle in Marrakesh, it is the first multilateral treaty on limitations and exceptions to copyright, and gives credence to the view that negotiation among stakeholders is possible.
But no one had any expectation that the treaty would move forward smoothly. (Some of my earlier coverage is here and here). Prior to last year’s conference, Tatiana Sinodinou posted a detailed assessment of the situation; reminding us that these negotiations began more than thirty years earlier, when UNESCO and WIPO jointly created a working group to examine the possibilities for enhancing access to copyrighted material for those handicapped by visual or auditory limitations.
Sinodinou eloquently captured the tension of what lay ahead: “… The road to Marrakesh is open but is not paved with roses and the outcome of the negotiations is awaited with both hope and reservations.” Given that history, the cooperation found a year ago was worthy of attribution to the miraculous. But tangible benefit is yet to be had; the miracle may give way to mirage if concerted action is not taken.
With the treaty language adopted on 27 June 2013, delegates were invited to sign the treaty on 28 June 2013 and agree to:
… to introduce a standard set of limitations and exceptions to copyright rules in order to permit reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in formats designed to be accessible to [blind, visually impaired and print disabled persons] and to permit exchange of these works across borders by organizations that serve those beneficiaries …
Fifty-one countries immediately obliged. Over the past year, sixteen others signed. And this morning came the welcome news that Australia, Finland, Ireland and Norway have also signed.
— WIPO (@WIPO) June 23, 2014
Geist points out that Canadian law will only need minor modification and that the Federal Government could make such changes during the upcoming scheduled review of Canadian copyright law in 2017. But, he also writes:
The biggest change would likely come from the need to establish an entity that would facilitate, promote, and disseminate accessible format copies of work and exchange information with other countries about accessible works. In other words, the treaty would require Canada to invest in improving access for the blind.
Fortunately, CELA might serve that need. Officially launched on 1 April 2014, with a formal debut at the Canadian Library Association’s National Conference on 29 May 2014, the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) is a non-profit organization that serves Canadians with print disabilities. Supported by the Canadian Urban Libraries Council and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, CELA already has 600 member libraries across Canada. Among the services provided by CELA are:
– A broad choice of formats including audio, braille, e-text and described video
– Access to a growing collection of over 230,000 alternate format items including books, magazines, newspapers and described videos
– A broad selection of genres: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s, young adult, business, self-help, poetry and more
– A choice of delivery options: Direct download to computer, handheld devices and DAISY player; CD and braille mailed to home
– Training and expertise on accessibility
Of course, this only makes it more perplexing that our government is holding back on signing the treaty.
On a brighter note; Israel, which is not yet among the list of signatories, nevertheless amended its copyright law expressly to comply with the treaty requirements. At Israel Technology Law, Eli Greenbaum writes that the Israeli implementation exceeds the minimum standards required. (Hopefully, ratification is forthcoming quickly.) And it appears that India had planned to ratify the treaty by now; in his coverage last month for SpicyIP, Swaraj Paul Barooah writes: “G.R. Raghavender, Registrar of Copyrights, has stated that the ratification is expected by the end of May, 2014.” (Perhaps the election delayed the plans, but the new Indian government intends to act quickly?)
Until twenty countries ratify the treaty, and none have done so yet, the treaty cannot have force. In a lecture given at the Berkman Center on 23 April 2014, Justin Hughes, (chief negotiator for the United States for the Marrakesh Treaty) was unequivocal that much more needs to be done:
The real policy goal, the real thing we should care about is getting educational/cultural/informational materials into the hands of persons with print disabilities. And when you sign the treaty, you haven’t succeeded.
This journey is far from over; the road did not stop at Marrakesh.
Update July 1 India becomes the first country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty (dated to June 30, 2014)