The main objective of the Marrakesh Treaty is to address the “book famine” by facilitating the access of published books by people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. It requires from the countries who signed into the Treaty to have an exception to domestic copyright law for visually impaired and print disabled people. It also focuses on the accessibility of published works by harmonizing limitations and exceptions to the exchange of works across borders. It will hopefully increase the numbers of accessible works over the world. According to the World Blind Union, over 90% of published materials are currently not available to the nearly 300 million people that are blind or have a print disability.
A FAQ was put together by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to explain how the Marrakesh Treaty benefits Canadians.
A draft study by Professor Seng presented last week at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is of particular relevance to Canada, where many universities have recently begun to take the stance that the inclusion of articles or book chapters, for example, in hard copy and electronic course packs, is fair dealing that does not require permission or payment of copyright fees. Is the Canadian universities’ interpretation of fair dealing in line with the policies adopted in other countries? Professor Seng’s study sheds some light on this question. Read my full blog post on this topic here. Chapter 4: “Access to education, libraries, and traditional knowledge” of my book International Copyright and Access to Knowledge addresses the history and present politics of copyright in educational works.
Discussion of the internationalization of copyright limitations and exceptions, such as expanded exceptions to copyright for libraries, educational institutions, and people with disabilities, continue this week at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights.
One focus of today’s WIPO discussions was on the topic of orphan works, or copyright works where the copyright owner can’t be found. Libraries and archives are often the “adoptive parents” of orphan works; they are in a position to facilitate access to these works, especially through digital means. However, copyright regimes often stand in the way, as can differing national regimes. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), which is active at the meetings, notes that:
Some interesting proposals will soon be under discussion at the World Intellectual Property Organization that could free libraries, archives, educational and research institutions, and people with disabilities from copyright provisions that hamper their ability to make use of copyright works.
The World Intellectual Property Organization’s committee on copyright meets this upcoming June 29 to July 3. Three main topics will be under discussion: first, the possible establishment of a treaty granting intellectual property protection for broadcasting organizations; second, the possible establishment of an international instrument setting out copyright limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives; and, third, the possible establishment of an international instrument setting out limitations and exceptions for educational and research institutions and for persons with other disabilities.
The need for limitations and exceptions by libraries was laid out in 2011 by a number of library organizations, which noted that:
preservation of print and digital materials is a matter of increasing concern as “born digital” documents must be retained, print documents must be preserved and sometimes repaired, and digital lock increasingly make the job of preservation difficult or impossible.
libraries and archives must increasingly collaborate across institutions and borders, and copyright law must “catch up” to reflect this.
They suggested that an international treaty could enable libraries and archives to better preserve works; to support education, research, private study; and to support people with disabilities in accessing content (p. 5).
WIPO’s latest meeting of the SCCR had both failures and successes. Although it was without any agreements on established agenda items, for the second time in a row, the meeting did mark the very first ratification of the Marrakesh treaty.
It seems as though a pattern is starting to form in the WIPO’s SCCR where developed countries are resisting efforts made by developing countries to create a copyright environment that will be favourable to their development. Several developing countries stressed the development aspect of this UN agency in hopes to steer the focus of discussions to issues found in the Development Agenda. “Developing countries are pushing for limitations and exceptions to copyright, developed countries contend that the current copyright system is adequate” (Info Justice).
In order to bypass the refusal of the European Union and other countries to get to a text-based work on libraries and archives, the US delegation was invited by the Chair to present objectives and principles for exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives. The US delegate stated that the proposal was “seeking agreement on basic goals at the international level on which to base further work on national laws” but the EU insisted that they were “not willing to work towards a legally binding instrument” (IP Watch), a position they adopted at the previous meeting of the SCCR. This is troublesome for developing countries that rely mostly on foreign works and who do not have developed and self-sustaining publishing industries.
This position is troublesome to librarians and archivists who are seeking to have updated the legal frameworks that they work within to preserve and acquire works and make them available for education and research. A further issue that they want WIPO to address is that of contract licenses for digital content which often overrides the exceptions and limitations currently being discussed within the SCCR. “Collectively, libraries today spend billions of dollars each year on licensed digital content” according to the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). Ellen Broad, the manager of digital projects at IFLA said that “amounts spent on content differ dramatically” while Simonetta Vezzoso, copyright consultant at the Associazione Italiana Biblioteche (Italy) added that “There is little transparency in costs across suppliers” (IP Watch).
Despite setbacks however, India became the first country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty. “We congratulate India on its ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty and hope this ratification will be the first of many,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “When the Marrakesh Treaty takes effect, the lives of people who are visually impaired around the world will be enriched” Gurry Said (AG-IP News). The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled seeks to, as the name suggests, facilitate the production, dissemination and exchange of works for “persons who are blind, visually impaired, or reading disabled or persons with a physical disability that prevents them from holding and manipulating a book” (WIPO). The treaty will come into force once 20 ratifications have been presented to WIPO.
In addition, the Accessible Books Consortium was launched and is tasked with increasing the number of accessible books “for use by hundreds of millions of people around the globe who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled, most of whom live in less-developed regions” (WIPO). According to WIPO, ABC was created to help increase access to works by print disabled individuals through work in three areas: “the sharing of technical skills in developing and least developed countries to produce and distribute books in accessible formats, promoting inclusive publishing, and building an international database and book exchange of accessible books”.