Marrakesh Treaty Coming in September

Copyright, Information Access, Legislation, Policies

Jay's-treatyBy: Ken Sawdon

With Canada’s ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, the WIPO treaty will be brought into force in September, and many people are excited for the results. Properly, the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled” was adopted in 2013, but required 20 ratifications by eligible parties to be enforced. It will bring important IF provisions to print disabled patrons who are unable to access usual materials.

From WIPO, “the Marrakesh Treaty was adopted on June 27, 2013 in Marrakesh and it forms part of the body of international copyright treaties administered by WIPO. It has a clear humanitarian and social development dimension and its main goal is to create a set of mandatory limitations and exceptions for the benefit of the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled.” Essentially, it requires that signatories make special provisions for print disabled users.

Generally, “it requires Contracting Parties to introduce a standard set of limitations and exceptions to copyright rules in order to permit reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in formats designed to be accessible to [visually impaired people], and to permit exchange of these works across borders by organizations that serve those beneficiaries.” But, the treaty is not a sweeping reform: there are many limitations and exceptions to what works can be converted and when. Some limitations include: only authorized non-profit entities may create more accessible copies; non-commercial usage; must have lawful access to the resource; changes only to make the work accessible; supply only to visually impaired people. Additionally, visually impaired people can make their own personal copies. The treaty attempts to be lightweight and flexible in order to fit into a wide array of existing copyright laws.

One section in particular perked my interest until it was shown to me I had misunderstood the statement:

Contracting Parties shall take appropriate measures, as necessary, to ensure that when they provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures, this legal protection does not prevent beneficiary persons from enjoying the limitations and exceptions provided for in this Treaty. – Article 7 Obligations Concerning Technological Measures

I had misread this as an allowance to authorized creators of more accessible works to circumvent technological protection measures. This would have been vital addition to the treaty. It would have ensured that content distributors couldn’t circumvent the rights of the visually impaired by installing software to prevent access. But, actually, the statement is calling upon contracting parties to ensure any protection measures created for distribution of new more accessible copies do not interfere with the accessing of these copies by the intended audience. This statement seems more obvious and unnecessary to me: of course the more accessible copies should not prevent the intended audience from using them. Still a concern in distribution, but less important. I am concerned about contract partners that do not have any exceptions to technological protection measures, and how all of this content may be inaccessible for the visually impaired.

I had also been previously unaware of Section 1201 Exemptions to Prohibition Against Circumvention of Technological Measures Protecting Copyrighted Works. These Copyright Office Final Rules already provide limited (but powerful), “exemptions from the general prohibition against circumvention of access controls.” Many thanks to the OIF and ALA Washington Office for pointing this out, and clarifying the previous statement.

There are a lot of rules about distribution of the more accessible copies. Largely, these revolve around the import and exportation of the copies, especially on the restriction against exporting to non-treaty countries and to people without a visual impairment. To encourage sharing of accessible format copies, WIPO is going to collect and share the identities of entities authorized to make more accessible copies of works.

The twenty current signatories are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, South Korea, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Israel, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Paraguay, Peru, North Korea, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay.

The full treaty can be found here.

IFLA’s statement on the Marrakesh Treaty coming into force can be found here.

I also highly recommend reading Carrie Russell’s post for the District Dispatch on the treaty and HathiTrust’s project to make more accessible books. If I had read her post before writing this I may have saved the effort and just tweeted her work out instead!



Ken Sawdon is a Footage Curation and Metadata Specialist at Dissolve Ltd., a startup stock footage and photo company. He is a recent MLIS graduate from the University of Alberta, where his activities included co-chair of the Forum for Information Professionals student conference and community activist and blogger for the Future Librarians for Intellectual Freedom. He has been a volunteer librarian for the Aero Space Museum of Calgary as well as a Collections Assistant at Fort Calgary. He loves wading through policy and legislation, especially intellectual property issues and professional association rhetoric. You can find and connect with him at @kainous on Twitter.

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