Access to knowledge is a fundamentally important right that many blind, low-vision, and otherwise print-disabled people cannot exercise due to limitations in federal copyright laws. The Marrakesh Treaty has been established to amend copyright laws to protect the copying of texts into accessible formats.
Each year, 95% of published works that are made available for the public cannot be enjoyed by people who are blind, have low-vision, or have reading challenges such as dyslexia.
Let that sink in a minute…95%.
As a way to combat what’s known as “the book famine” for the blind, September 30, 2016, marked the day that the conditions of the Marrakesh Treaty were put into effect for those 22 countries that agreed to its terms. These countries include Canada, Mexico, Australia, and India. While the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom have endorsed the Treaty, they haven’t yet accepted it into law. But it’s coming!
So what is the Marrakesh Treaty?
It’s a starting point: the beginning of the end to inaccessible cultural works including literature, sheet music, visual art, and dramatic performances. Access to knowledge, culture, and the arts is important for everyone, and considered a basic human right. Laws exist to make sure that this right is specifically inclusive to people with disabilities.
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled—to give it its long name—enforces countries to amend their copyright laws to no longer make it illegal to reproduce cultural works in accessible formats without consent of the copyright holder.
In other words, individuals who are blind, have low-vision, or have a print disability such as dyslexia, along with non-profit agencies who provide services to such people, can reproduce things like books and plays in accessible formats without the permission of the authors, playwrights or publishers (i.e. copyright holders). Thanks to the treaty, these copyright holders can’t take legal action against those reproducing their works for accessibility purposes.
So what does this mean for copyright holders?
The Marrakesh Treaty will hopefully encourage copyright holders to produce their own works in accessible formats if they want to keep the upper hand on the accessibility “pirates.” Arr!
In Canada, as in the other countries that have ratified the Treaty, if a copyright holder can prove that they have made their work accessible, and it is easily available to the public, and an organization has tried to copy a work for accessibility purposes, then the copyright holder can, in fact, still take legal action under the Canadian Copyright Act (PDF). Shiver me timbers!
Luckily, though, if an organization is selling accessible, copyrighted works, royalties must still be paid to the copyright holder.
Do copyright holders have to make their works accessible?
While the Treaty does not enforce publishers and other distributors of literary and artistic works to make accessible versions commercially available, litigation can still take place by people with print disabilities who cite The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Much of the world, including Canada, Europe, the United Kingdom and Australia, has ratified the CRPD, so copyright holders in those countries may be held against Article 21 (Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information) and Article 30 (Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport), to provide their works in accessible formats. If you are a copyright holder and do not have accessible versions of your work, it might be to your benefit to seek legal council.
While the United States has endorsed both the CRPD and the Marrakesh Treaty, both of these have not yet moved through into law. President Barack Obama has requested a quick ratification of the Treaty from the United States Senate, as provisions already exist in US copyright law that match those in the Treaty.
The Marrakesh Treaty is a huge step towards universal access to information, and we couldn’t be happier to have reached this monumental point in time. If you have a literary or artistic work that you’d like to make accessible, talk to us! We’d be glad to discuss your needs.
I know for myself, I wouldn’t mind having access to more audio books for long drives. How does this Treaty make you feel about the future of published works? Let us know in the comments below!