Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Copy It Again, Sam!

In the 1942 classic film Casablanca, Rick pleads with Sam, "You played it for her, you can play it for me."  On June 27, 2013, less that 250 km to the south, in Marrakesh, international negotiators concluded negotiation of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled, an agreement that might be loosely summarized as "You copied it for her, you can copy it for me."  In general, the Marrakesh Treaty is intended to strike a mutually-acceptable balance between the rights of the visually impaired and copyright owners.  As the Preamble states, the Treaty
Recogniz[es] the need to maintain a balance between the effective protection of the rights of authors and the larger public interest, particularly education, research and access to information, and that such a balance must facilitate effective and timely access to works for the benefit of persons with visual impairments or with other print disabilities.
Article 4, Section 1(a) provides for the availability of literary and artistic works for the visually impaired:
Contracting Parties shall provide in their national copyright laws for a limitation or exception to the right of reproduction, the right of distribution, and the right of making available to the public as provided by the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), to facilitate the availability of works in accessible format copies for beneficiary persons. The limitation or exception provided in national law should permit changes needed to make the work accessible in the alternative format.
Article 6 allows importation of literary and artistic works readable by the visually impaired:
To the extent that the national law of a Contracting Party would permit a beneficiary person, someone acting on his or her behalf, or an authorized entity, to make an accessible format copy of a work, the national law of that Contracting Party shall also permit them to import an accessible format copy for the benefit of beneficiary persons,without the authorization of the rightholder.
A number of other provisions encourage, or, in some cases, mandate, that signatories improve availability of literary and artistic works for the visually impaired.  Although at least 20 countries must sign the Marrakesh Treaty before it enters into force, it has already attracted a very prominent supporter.  Stevie Wonder, a highly talented musician who also happens to be visually impaired, enthusiastically endorsed the results of the negotiations.  To adapt one of Wonder's own songs, "Here is the Marrakesh Treaty, signed, sealed delivered, it's yours."