Although popular book titles are commonly produced in formats accessible to the visually impaired (for example, in audiobook or braille format), lesser-known titles are frequently only available in written format.
Unfortunately, this means that an enormous number of books cannot be accessed by those with a visual impairment. The Marrakesh Treaty was created to address this global human rights concern.
Under the treaty, countries are required to provide an exception to their copyright laws to allow easier access to printed works by utilizing accessible formats such as braille and digital audio files.
The adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty has been hailed by many as a miracle, as it addresses a major human rights issue by expanding disabled individuals’ access to the literature. However, this law can create thorny intellectual property (IP) issues. Because of this, I have put together a guide covering what you need to know about the treaty from an IP perspective.
First, though, a bit more about the act and how it works.
US Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled was originally ratified in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2013.
The Treaty became part of US law in the 2018 Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (MITA), which was passed in 2019. The complexities of the act required an immense collaboration between congressional staff, the US Government, and domestic stakeholders such as publishing houses.
Under MITA, the US Copyright Act can be bypassed by nonprofit or governmental entities — referred to as “authorized entities” — to import and export accessible book formats for the benefit of the visually and print impaired.
Since 1931, the Library of Congress has maintained a National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, which provides braille and recorded materials to disabled individuals. The adoption of the Treaty through MITA has allowed this service to access thousands of additional accessible-format works in 80 languages, greatly expanding access to the disabled.
The Interface Between Human Rights and IP
Anytime copyright laws come under question, the rights of the content creators are an important consideration. MITA is therefore a complex act, as implementation of the treaty into US law requires a delicate balance between the copyright system, meant to protect IP, and the rights of persons with visual disabilities.
In MITA, the US has protected IP, at least in part, by requiring that content be accessed by authorized entities, preventing private publishers from bypassing copyright laws to commercialize written content in accessible formats.
That said, the complexities of this largely unprecedented law can allow for some degree of copyright infringement, depending on its interpretation. In addition to the issues raised by the Marrakesh Treaty itself, enactment of a law that allows any bypass of the US Copyright Act creates new precedents that could be used to further endanger IP rights in the future.
This is where the expertise of an IP attorney becomes important. If you are concerned about your intellectual property being used improperly due to this treaty — or in general — do not hesitate to consult with an IP lawyer to address your concerns.