Victor Phung "Braille" CCBY-ND 2.0

Victor Phung "Braille" CCBY-ND 2.0

Late last month saw a truly historic day in copyright, one some of us feared we'd never see. On 29th September 2016, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled came into force.

The Treaty, which has already been ratified by 22 countries including Australia, ensures that people with a visual impairment the world over will finally have a mechanism to enforce their rights to equitable access to information.

But the Treaty is also important for another reason. It represents the most concrete acknowledgement of user rights so far by the international treaty regime that governs copyright.

Currently only 5-7% of published works are available in accessible format, and the percentages are even lower in developing countries. The Marrakesh Treaty addresses this issue in two ways, by ensuring that the blind and vision impaired (BVIP) can make accessible copies, and that those copies can be exchanged across borders.

This article is by Jess Coates, Executive Officer of the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA). It was first published on their website on 29th September 2016. It has been edited slightly to reflect the date of this republishing. See the original article.

Its implementation will provide significant benefits for Australia. Although we have a reasonably developed system of exceptions to allow access to copyright material for those with a print disability, there have always been questions about exactly how they work. Acting on advice, organisations that represent print disability communities have, for example, been reluctant to copy materials into specific formats needed by individuals, or to exchange materials with their international counterparts. This means that Australians miss out on accessing hundreds of thousands of books available to their international peers every year.

Although the Marrakesh Treaty doesn't by itself change the law in Australia, it has provided a motivation for the Government to improve it. Late last year, the Government released an exposure draft of the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill which will, among other things, create a new set of exceptions to replace the old that are simpler, broader, remove costly administrative burdens and apply not only to those with print disabilities, but to anyone with a disability.

The new amendments will mean that anyone with a disability that prevents them from reading, viewing or hearing copyright material should now be able to create a version they can access, as long as their actions are fair. Without these modifications many Australians with hearing loss, vision impairment or other disability cannot access the same books, films and other content that other Australians take for granted.

The ADA has written before [as has EFA] about our support of these amendments, and we are extremely keen to see them tabled before Parliament. The Government promised to do this early in the new term, so we're hoping to see them on the agenda any day now (fingers crossed).

But in the meantime, let's celebrate the really big achievement - the Marrakesh Treaty. It took years to negotiate, and many compromises were made. The final product looks very different from the original proposals, and some people think it might not have happened at all if it wasn't for a personal petition by Stevie Wonder.

But the important thing is that it exists, it is in force, and the world is forever a better place.

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