June 28, 2018- The US Senate voted unanimously to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, also passing necessary changes to US copyright law that are required to implement the treaty. Now the process moves to the House, which must also ratify the treaty.
This is great news for readers with print disabilities. Currently only up to 7% of the world’s literature is available in accessible form. This is partly due to access barriers in copyright law- something the treaty helps to remove.
It does that in two main ways. Firstly, by requiring countries which ratify the Treaty to have an exemption to domestic copyright law for visually impaired and print disabled people. This means that countries which ratify the treaty must ensure their laws allow blind people and their organizations to put literary works into accessible format without the need to ask permission first from the holder of the copyright (e.g. author or publisher).
Secondly, it allows the import and export of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works, without copyright holder permission. This will allow those, mostly in wealthier countries, that have large collections of accessible books to share these collections with visually impaired people in poorer countries with fewer resources.
There are also provisions in the treaty to protect copyright holders. Article 2 of the Treaty makes it clear that accessible books sent under its provisions should be solely for the use of “beneficiary persons”. It requires also that “authorized entities” take “due care” when handling these books, and that they discourage the reproduction and distribution of unauthorized copies.
The National Federation of the Blind issued the following statement after the vote:
"For more than six years, the National Federation of the Blind has worked tirelessly toward this historic day for the blind of America and the world," said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "We applaud the United States Senate for providing its advice and consent for ratification of the treaty, as well as for passing S. 2559, the 'Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act'. We urge the US House of Representatives to join their Senate colleagues in swiftly passing S. 2559, so that the door to expanded literacy and access to the world's knowledge will be unlocked for millions of blind Americans."