Blind and visually impaired individuals are now closer to greater access to literary works and printed music after the Senate gave its advice and consent June 29 to U.S. ratification of an ABA-supported treaty and accompanying implementation legislation.
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works to Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled requires contracting parties to adopt copyright exceptions and limitations in their domestic copyright laws to permit reproduction of public works into accessible formats usable by individuals with a range of disabilities that interfere with the effective reading of printed material. More than 30 countries are party to the treaty, which also requires that the countries allow eligible individuals and libraries to export and import works among those countries.
The implementing legislation, S. 2559, would make adjustments to U.S. copyright law relating to the treaty’s requirements. The bill is now pending in the House, which is expected to consider the legislation soon.
The treaty, which is administered by the World Intellectual Property Association, was negotiated in June 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco, and submitted to the Senate in February 2016 by President Obama. In his letter of transmittal, Obama noted that the United States played a leadership role in negotiating the treaty, and its provisions are broadly consistent with the approach and structure of existing U.S. law. The treaty came into force in September 2016 when Canada became the 20th nation to ratify it.
ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman urged ratification of the treaty in a letter that was made part of the record of a hearing convened April 17 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Ratifying the treaty would help open doors to countries worldwide by allowing literature to be disseminated in accessible format with no borders.” Susman said.
The treaty received overwhelming support during the hearing. Manisha Singh, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, emphasized that less than 10 percent of the one million books published worldwide every year are available in Braille, large print, or accessible digital files. She said that the treaty would allow Americans who are blind or visually impaired or with other print disabilities to access an estimated 350,000 additional works.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which approved the treaty on May 22 and submitted an executive report to the full Senate on June 19, stated that the treaty “strikes a careful balance, providing that copyright protection should not impede the creation and distribution of such accessible format copies, including the exchange of such copies internationally to designated beneficiaries while providing for appropriate safeguards to protect the interests of copyright holders.”