On June 28, 2018, the U.S. Senate provided the necessary advice and consent for ratification of the WIPO Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.
At present, 39 countries, other than the United States, have notified WIPO they have ratified the treaty. At least another 54 countries have signed, or ratified but not yet notified WIPO. The U.S. Senate approval of ratification comes five years to the day after the treaty was concluded in Marrakesh, Morocco, and 10 years after a group of experts met in KEI’s Washington, DC offices to write the first draft of the treaty.
The National Federation of the Blind, which lobbied hard for ratification of the treaty, has a statement here.
KEI’s statement on Senate approval of the treaty is as follows:
“The United States played a key role in initially supporting, but later blocking, and finally supporting the treaty. During five years of contentious negotiations on the treaty text, there were many who opposed the treaty, and its prospects were uncertain, to say the least. But the determination of blind persons around the world, and the compelling need for a global cross border framework for exceptions prevailed. There were a large number of persons who worked very hard to get the treaty, and later work toward its ratification, and the support of the Open Society Foundation was instrumental at every moment. The fact that the treaty was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate, and that ratification was supported by both President Obama and President Trump, and in the end, every publisher group, illustrates the deep legitimacy of this instrument, and the skill of the negotiators and in particular, the treaty advocates. It’s hard to find anyone who will admit trying to block the treaty earlier, but in fact, this was a contentious and very difficult negotiation. Now, the collections of accessible works located in the United States will be available to persons who are blind in other countries, including the developing world where access is often severely lacking. Blind persons in the United States will also have access to more works in English, but also in foreign languages, which are important to many U.S. blind persons, for both professional and personal uses. This is one example of how globalization can work for people that will shine for years.”
As noted in our statement, the Marrakesh treaty was initially controversial, opposed by publishers, the motion picture industry, and a diverse set of business lobbies, led by aggressive opposition from General Electric, Exxon, Caterpillar, and other large firms. We have many links about the negotiations here: https://www.keionline.org/r2r, and KEI recorded more than 200 video interviews during the talks, available here: https://www.youtube.com/user/KEIWashDC/videos
The corporate lobbies opposing the treaty sought to block the unwanted precedent of an intellectual property rights treaty that would mandate exceptions, and a treaty that would explicitly protect the human rights of readers. The United States, under President Obama, was the last country to accept a diplomatic conference, and spent the first half of the diplomatic conference trying to block the negotiations, only to relent after the Washington Post published a full page article detailing the motion picture industry lobbying against the treaty.
The Marrakesh treaty sought to solve two problems — 1. The lack of robust copyright exceptions for persons who were blind or had other reading disabilities, and 2. The cross border use of the exceptions, so that works made accessible in one country can be made available to persons with a disability in another country. The treaty mandated minimum exceptions, and ensured that the exceptions would be use cross border, to vastly enhance access to works for persons who were blind or have other disabilities, around the world.
The treaty excluded persons who were deaf as beneficiaries, in response to demands from the Obama Administration and USPTO negotiator Justin Hughes, who was working closely with the MPAA.
KEI worked closely with the World Blind Union and other blind groups around the world to propose and then advocate for and influence the content of the treaty.
The work on the treaty came initially out of a collaboration between the WBU and KEI. KEI’s work was led by Dr. Manon Ress. KEI and the WBU convened a meeting of experts in Washington, DC on July 24-25, 2008, where an initial draft, prepared by KEI, was discussed and substantially modified by the experts. KEI edited the second draft, which was presented to WIPO delegates by Chris Friend of the WBU,in the fall of 2008. That draft was later introduced, verbatim as, SCCR/18/5, titled “Proposal by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay, Relating to Limitations and Exceptions: Treaty Proposed by the World Blind Union (WBU)”.
The report from the 2008 experts meeting is available here.
The members of the 2008 experts group included the following persons:
Christopher E.B. Friend, MBE FInstF, Chair, WBU Copyright and Right to Read Working Group, Expert Resource Person, IFLA Copyright Committee;
Judith Sullivan, formerly with the UK Intellectual Property Office, Current Consultant, Copyright and Government Affairs.
Vera Franz, OSI;
James Love, Director Knowledge Ecology International, Director
Jim Fruchterman, President and CEO Benetech
George Kerscher, DAISY Consortium
Winston Tabb, International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)
Douglas Newcomb, Chief Policy Officer, Special Libraries Association (SLA)
Carrie Russell Copyright Specialist, Office for Information Technology Policy American Library Association (ALA)
Lori Driscoll, International Copyright Advocate, Library Copyright Alliance, University of Florida
James Gashel, Vice President of Business Development, K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc.
Prof. Ruth Okediji, Minnesota University Law School
Manon Ress, Knowledge Ecology International, Head of Information Society Programs
Luis Villaroel-Villalon, Vice Chair of the WIPO SCCR and Chile’s Delegate;
Marisella Ouma, Kenya Copyright Board and Kenya’s Delegate at WIPO;
Rahul Cherian Jacob, Copyright Attorney in India,
Malini Aisola, KEI
Margaret Williams, CNIB Library for the Blind
Judit Sanjuan Rius, KEI Attorney.
This was the video from the moment agreement was reached on the text, in an informal negotiation: