Saturday, 21 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 21: Why Australia should sign the Marrakesh Treaty

Today's post has been contributed by Trish Hepworth who is the Executive Officer for the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA), as well as the Copyright Advisor for the Australian Libraries Copyright Committee. You can follow her on twitter @TrishHepworth


For the copyright geeks of this world (eg me) the decision in the Hathi Trust case had been keenly anticipated. The case centred on a group of university libraries who, with the help of Google, digitised books from their collection, making them searchable (but not viewable) online. The ruling, that this was a ‘fair use’ of copyright material was an important milestone in jurisprudence. 

For the rest of the world (ie the non-fair use copyright obsessed) it was an important mile-stone in disability access. One use that the libraries are making of the digitised copies is to provide accessible copies to people with visual disabilities. The digital books can be viewed by screen readers, undergo text-to-speech conversion or other conversion processes, making their content accessible by the blind and visually impaired (and those with other disabilities as well). This project, along with others such as project Gutenberg, are rapidly increasing the store of digital works available to the blind and visually impaired (BVIP). 

When you consider that only 7% of the world’s content is accessible to BVIP at the moment in developed countries, and much less than that in developing countries, you get an idea feel for the impact that these digital collections can have. However copyright law has an inconvenient way of stifling these project – either by prohibiting them at the national level (no exception to make accessible copies) or at the international level (no ability to share these works across borders). 

In steps the hero WIPO. Transforming from paper-pushing clerk to superhero, this caped crusader, ably assisted by her side-kick NGOs, facilitates agreement by the member states to an international treaty that would:

· Mandate national level exceptions to make accessible copies for the BVIP
· Allow those copies to be shared across borders

The treaty, known as the Marrakesh Treaty, was concluded last year. To date 65 countries, plus the EU and the Holy See, have signed. 
Australia has not – and we only have until the 26th before the Treaty will close to signatures. If we miss the deadline we can still join, but we’ll have to accede (a process the same as ratification) and we won’t have the kudos of being an original signatory. Not to mention the fact that this is a treaty of immense practical importance to the country’s BVIP. We should be signing ASAP! 

Libraries have been active in the negotiation, promotion and support of this treaty, and the representative bodies such as ALIA continue to work with our colleagues in the BVIP services areas to bring the matter to the attention of the government. For libraries, both those specialist BVIP libraries and the wider library body with collections to share and BVIP customers to serve, signing Marrakesh would be a great first step to increasing the accessible copies available to patrons. 

Let’s hope we sign, and ratify, in the next fortnight. 

-Trish Hepworth

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