In November we brought you the latest news about the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty. This is a copyright treaty that gives users rights; specifically, the right for print-impaired persons to make or have made for them accessible copies of works, and for those works to be sent cross-border between countries which have ratified the Treaty. Print-impairment in this case includes visual impairments, impairments which make it impossible to hold or manipulate a book, and cognitive impairments such as dyslexia.
The core aim of the Treaty is to redress the global book famine in which sees only 7-20% of published works made available in accessible formats such as braille, large print, and eBooks, with this figure dropping to just 1% in developing countries.
Progress since the last update
Last September the European Commission submitted a draft proposal for a Directive and a Regulation. The directive would amend Directive 2001/29/EC on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society - often termed the ‘InfoSoc Directive’. In Feburary the CJEU ruled that the EU did have competence to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty on behalf of its member states, putting an end to a long-running feud about this issue. Despite pressure from lobbying groups – mainly those from the publishing industry – the Legal Affairs Committee of the EU Commission, JURI, approved the draft legislation unanimously on the 23rd March, by a vote of 22 to 0.
LACA (The Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance) have written to Jo Johnson as Minister for Intellectual Property and Sir Tim Barrow as the UK’s Permanent Representative to the EU. The letters are reproduced in full here. We have yet to receive an assurance that the UK will oppose the optional commercial availability requirements that could impede cross-border sharing. In our latest communication we have requested evidence for the existence of a commercial market, since it is our view that a market failure in the supply of accessible works precipitated the need for the Marrakesh Treaty in the first place.
Certain aspects of the Treaty have proved to be extremely contentious. The main issue concerns commercial availabilitychecking, and/or a requirement to pay compensation to rights holders, with some members wishing to amend Recital 11 of the Marrakesh Directive to this effect. Other areas of concern are extra reporting requirements for sending works outside of the EU, and required authorised entities to register. These measures would expose libraries to an unacceptable degree of risk and bureaucracy since the countries who most need accessible format copies are those least likely to have the infrastructure to enable checking for commercially available works. This net result would be to hinder librariansin their efforts to serve their most vulnerable users.
The European Council and European Parliament must agree on the final text before it is approved by both bodies. The Council, Parliament, and Council of the European Union began a set of informal negotiations in April with the aim of fast-tracking the implementation of the Treaty. On the 10th May an agreement was reached. However, the final agreement would allow EU member states to impose a compensation requirement, meaning that libraries and charities which serve print impaired users may have to pay compensation to rights holders inorder to make and distribute accessible copies. LACA opposes this development in the strongest possible terms. We feel that there is no evidence that the making of accessible copies causes substantial economic harm to rights holders, and we will continue to request this evidence for as long as the possibility of compensation schemes is on the negotiating table.
Once it leaves the European Union, the UK will have to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty in its own right and implement legislation to replace the provisions of the Regulation. This must not be an opportunity to introduce commercial availability checks and / or remuneration schemes into our laws. LACA and other colleagues in the sector will continue to push for swift and effective ratification for Marrakesh that is founded on a strong evidence base and a focus on the human rights aims of the Treaty. If you want to know more, please contact CILIP policy team follow us @UKLACA.
Image reference: Audio book down load station - Prescott Public Library by Ellen Forsyth on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0), cropped