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Blind Users Celebrate as Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Bill Drops

DEEPLINKS BLOG
March 15, 2018

Blind Users Celebrate as Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Bill Drops

Today the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Bill was introduced into Congress by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bob Corker (R-TN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The bill implements the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, a landmark treaty that was adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in June 2013, and has since been ratified by 37 other countries. The treaty is notable in that it is the first WIPO treaty passed primarily for a disadvantaged class of users, rather than for the benefit of copyright holders.

When passed, the bill will allow those who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise reading disabled (for example, being unable to pick up and turn the pages of a book) to make free use of written works in accessible formats such as braille, large print, or audiobook. Although similar provisions were already part of U.S. law, the amendments made by this bill slightly broadens the class of beneficiaries who were eligible for access to such works.

Even more significantly, the implementation bill will ensure that it is legal for accessible works to be sent between the U.S. and other countries that are signatories to the Marrakesh Treaty. There are many blind, visually impaired, and print disabled users in countries that do not have the capacity to produce their own accessible works, reflected in the fact that such users in poor countries have access to only 1% of published books in accessible formats, compared with 7% in rich countries. Allowing eligible users throughout the world access to works that have been created in any other Marrakesh signatory countries is a compassionate and sensible solution to this "book famine."

The implementation bill tracks the Marrakesh Treaty closely, and it is not, as we had once feared, tied to the implementation of the much more problematic Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances, which would require more significant changes to U.S. law. The National Federation for the Blind, libraries, publishers, the Copyright Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) all support the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Bill, and so does EFF. We wish the bill's sponsors success in seeing its speedy passage through Congress.

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