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More books accessible

Glasses on top of a book.
Image from planetofsuccess.com, via Flickr.

Two phenomenal things happened during the ALA Annual conference in Orlando in support of equitable access to information.  First, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Canada ratified the Marrakesh Treaty in their national copyright laws bringing the total number of ratifications to twenty – the magic number necessary to put the treaty into force on June 30, 2017.  Readers may remember that the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled was the first international copyright treaty to establish an exception to copyright law in 2013.  In the United States, we already had the Chafee amendment (section 121), but many nations do not have exceptions— in particular, few have fair use. The treaty allows authorized entities in participating countries to make accessible copies for people with print disabilities – including people with dyslexia and physical disabilities that make turning a page impossible – which is an expansion of Chafee.  Additionally, the treaty allows countries to share accessible content across borders, tremendously increasing the amount of accessible content available to the print disabled, especially in developing nations.

Unfortunately, the United States has not yet ratified the treaty because of further conditions on record keeping that the Association of American Publishers (AAP) is requesting be included in the statutory language. The treaty implementation package – with the recommendations of the Unites States delegation that negotiated the treaty – is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.   While the United States was the clear leader in advocating for the international treaty, domestically we have not moved forward.   Meanwhile, ALA as a member of the Library Copyright Alliance will continue to goad the Senate and other stakeholders.   Even though we have the Chafee amendment, ratification of the treaty would allow the United States to import and export accessible content to other Marrakesh countries.

The other remarkable thing that happened is that the HathiTrust digital collection of accessible books will soon be available to the print disabled across the country.  Initially this collection was only available to students with print disabilities registered at the University of Michigan or one of the other HathiTrust partner libraries. Primarily made up of scholarly and research materials, these works have never before been available in accessible format.  That’s more than 14 million titles now available! In collaboration with the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), HathiTrust says the digital collection will be available to the print disabled in the coming year.

Happy days and thanks for the great work done by all!!

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Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the Director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office for Information Technology Policy. 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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