There has been welcome news from the Unites States, where legislation designed to implement the Marrakesh Treaty has been introduced to Congress. Once this is voted, America will join the growing number of countries choosing to remove the unnecessary copyright-related barriers that have meant that people with print disabilities only have access to a small share of all publications.

The Marrakesh Treaty provides a response to the problems created by the exclusive right of authors – or publishers – to authorise the copying of works and their subsequent use. The creation of a version of a book in Braille, or a digital copy which can be adapted to meet the needs of the users, therefore fell under copyright.

However, with the community of people with any given form of print disability is often too small to make it economically worthwhile for publishers to create the relevant accessible format copies. Libraries themselves invest in making such copies, but are faced by budget constraints.

The Treaty allows for an exception to these rights – meaning that individuals and institutions can make copies without authorisation, and that they can then share them with other eligible individuals and institutions. This also works across borders – an important step forwards in countries where the budget available for creating accessible format works is minimal.

The US legislation, introduced by members of the House of Representatives from both main political parties, will help ensure that the US catches up with Canada, India, much of Latin America, and shortly the European Union. It confirms the right to make and share accessible format copies of works, without imposing additional payments or an obligation to check on the commercial availability of works first.

As the legislative process advances, it will be important to ensure that no additional obligations are inserted. This is important, given the need for as many libraries as possible to get involved – they should not be over-burdened with regulation or scared away.  

This bill is a very positive start, and IFLA hopes for a speedy and simple ratification. In doing this, the US will make a major step towards ending the book famine for all.  

For more information, see the Association of Research Libraries response.