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Book with chain.

Credit: rosefirerising, Flickr

Yesterday, the Obama Administration transmitted to the Senate the ratification package for the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. After extensive executive review, the Senate now has a chance to pass copyright legislation that will ratify the Treaty, adopted in June 2013 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA)—of which ALA is a member—supported efforts to pass the treaty, which is the first WIPO treaty to mandate an exception to copyright. If ratified, the treaty will allow countries with copyright exceptions for the disabled to share accessible content for people with print disabilities – including the blind and vision impaired, those who suffer from dyslexia, and others. Additionally, Libraries will be “authorized agencies” that can make accessible copies without the prior permission of the rights holder. Fourteen other countries have already ratified the treaty, with EU countries noticeably forestalling ratification. The hope is that with U.S. ratification, more nations will come on board and benefit from a substantial collection of accessible, English content. Twenty ratifications are necessary for the treaty to go into effect on a global basis.

While submission of the treaty to the Senate is a hopeful development, there is still the possibility that the Senate will choose to stall or reject the treaty. It might also support additional changes to the Chafee amendment (Section 121) that make the treaty unworkable. For instance, it might require libraries to maintain extensive records of who receives accessible content or require that borrowing countries first prove that an accessible copy is not available in the marketplace. Any delays or unnecessary steps will impede efforts to share accessible content. Unfortunately, the Senate has a record of rejecting international treaties, including its rejection of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2012, a lame duck session.

It is estimated that less than 1% of all published content is available in accessible forms in developing nations, where most people with print disabilities live. To solve the book famine, one hopes that the Senate sees the value in ensuring equitable access to information — a cornerstone of democracy.

For more information on the treaty, please visit https://nfb.org/marrakeshfactsheet.

About Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the Director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books and other public policy issues. She has a MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a MA in media arts from the University of Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at crussell@alawash.org.

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