Langevin and Harper Urge Ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty

Aug 30, 2017 Issues: Disabilities

Congressmen Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Gregg Harper (R-MS), co-chairs of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, sent a letter today to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty. The Treaty would require countries to adjust their copyright laws in order to bring down barriers to the reproduction and distribution of published works in formats accessible to people with visual impairments.

“Despite the existence of accessible formats such as large print, audio, digital and Braille, only 10 percent of published works are currently available to Americans who are print disabled,” the Congressmen wrote. “Lowering barriers to the production of accessible printed and digital texts will allow the blind and visually impaired greater use of educational and cultural resources while also enhancing their ability to lead more fulfilling and independent lives.”

Negotiated by member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Treaty requires participating countries to allow for the creation and lending of texts accessible to those otherwise unable to read traditional books. The Treaty also extends protections for the import and export of accessible format copies. The text of the treaty was adopted in June 2013, and the United States joined as a signatory later that year. Currently, 90 countries have signed the Treaty, and 31 have ratified it.

The full text of the letter is below:

 

August 30, 2017

Senator Bob Corker
Chairman
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
423 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

 

Senator Ben Cardin
Ranking Member
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
423 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Cardin:

We write to encourage the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to consider the Marrakesh Treaty’s resolution of ratification and to introduce implementing legislation making any necessary statutory changes to the Chafee Amendment. The Marrakesh Treaty (the Treaty) requires participating countries to adjust their copyright rules in order to permit the reproduction and distribution of published works in accessible formats. As co-chairs of the House of Representative’s Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, we have a vested interest in supporting greater access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled.

Despite the existence of accessible formats such as large print, audio, digital and Braille, only 10 percent of published works are currently available to Americans who are print disabled. Lowering barriers to the production of accessible printed and digital texts will allow the blind and visually impaired greater use of educational and cultural resources while also enhancing their ability to lead more fulfilling and independent lives.

Once participating countries have incorporated appropriate exceptions into their copyright laws, the Treaty will facilitate access in two major ways. First, authorized entities will be able to reproduce and distribute accessible format copies of published works to eligible persons. Second, accessible format copies of published works will be importable and exportable among countries who are parties to the Treaty. The Treaty specifies who qualifies as an eligible person, defines accessible formats, and prescribes what authorized entities must do to lawfully engage in the cross-border exchange of accessible format copies.

Although the United States played a crucial leadership role in developing the Treaty, Americans cannot benefit until it is approved by the Senate. Initial concerns about the Treaty’s effect on the copyright system and its potential financial impact have been mollified through careful negotiation. Publishers and copyright holders were able to reach a compromise regarding the creation of accessible format works among authorized entities, and participating authorized entities agreed to limit the export of accessible formats to only those countries that have ratified the Treaty.

The Treaty “[c]oncluded under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization” and was adopted on June 27, 2013 with strong stakeholder support among advocates for the blind, the international publishing community, and legal experts. Currently, it has been signed by 90 countries and ratified by 31 countries.

Implementation of the Treaty will require subtle changes to United States law, but it fits well within the current framework of American copyright restrictions. During the 114th Congress, the Treaty was described as an asset to the country’s national interest and a catalyst for the enhancement of knowledge available for those who are visually impaired. We believe that underlying tone of support remains in the 115th Congress.

Achieving more equal access to published works will improve lives, enhance educational opportunities, and increase literacy nationwide and around the world. We respectfully urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to end the book famine for the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled by moving forward with consideration of the Marrakesh Treaty.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.