Obama Administration Recommends Senate Ratify Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind; Implementation Language Would Limit Exports

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Obama Administration Recommends Senate Ratify Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind; Implementation Language Would Seriously Limit Exports

Washington, DC — Today, February 12, 2016, the Obama administration released its proposed implementation language for the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. (The text is available via WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization, which is responsible for administering the treaty: http://www.wipo.int/wipolex/en/details.jsp?id=13169.) President Barack Obama transmitted the treaty to the Senate on February 10, 2016, and recommended that “the Senate give early and favorable consideration to the Marrakesh Treaty, and give its advice and consent to its ratification.”

The Marrakesh Treaty would provide for mandatory limitations and exceptions to copyright in order to make and distribute accessible formats of works for persons who are blind or have other disabilities. Parties to the treaty would also facilitate the cross-border exchange of accessible works, so that works made accessible in one country can be delivered over the Internet to blind persons around the world. If implemented as broadly as allowed by the treaty, this can revolutionize access for blind people, particularly those living in developing countries that share a common language, or blind persons seeking access to works in another language.

As of today, 82 parties have signed the agreement, including the United States and the European Union. Thirteen countries have ratified the agreement so far, and it enters into force upon ratification by 20 parties. Brazil most recently ratified the treaty, on December 15, 2015, and policymakers in Kyrgyzstan are also discussing ratification.

Proposed implementation language, sent today to the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees by the United States Department of Commerce and Patent and Trademark Office, would limit the benefits of the treaty to parties that have already ratified the agreement. Their proposal would prevent exports from the United States to countries that have not ratified the agreement, preventing blind people in developing countries and the European Union from having access to accessible formats of published works.

See here for the full recommendation of the USPTO and Department of Commerce: http://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/ip-policy/copyright/legislative-implementation-documents

Dr. Manon Ress is an access to knowledge advocate at Knowledge Ecology International (KEI). KEI was the co-convenor with the World Blind Union (WBU) of the group of experts that wrote the first draft negotiating text. Ress worked for five years on the adoption of the treaty. She is Director for Information Society Projects at Knowledge Ecology. The following quote can be attributed to Dr. Ress:

“We welcome the decision of the Obama Administration to submit the Marrakesh treaty to Senate for ratification, and urge the Senate to act now. Leadership by the United States will induce additional ratifications, including by the European Union and its member states, where ratification has been bogged down. However, the Congress should also be critical of the implementation recommendations made by the Department of Commerce and USPTO, which bowed to publisher lobby groups to prevent producers of accessible formats from exporting to countries that have not yet ratified the Marrakesh Treaty. The proposed amendments to the copyright law will limit the access of all blind people living in the European Union, and in most countries in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, not to mention other countries where ratification of the treaty is taking time. The limitations on exports could be avoided by simply providing that exports to countries that have not ratified the treaty are allowed under the conditions that are equivalent to those those that apply in the countries that are Parties to the treaty. As usual, the U.S. implementing language provides narrower rights for users than the treaty allows.”