Marrakesh Treaty Comes into Force

By Fiona Phillips

 

In September the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled will come into force.  Australia is among the countries who have ratified the Treaty.   While Australian law is already compliant with the Treaty {1} the Government has chosen to take the opportunity to make some amendments to the print disability provisions in the Copyright Act.

The Government released an exposure draft of the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other measures) Bill in December 2015.  In anticipation of introduction of the Bill into Parliament, and the entry into force of the Treaty, members of the book industry have convened a round table with print disability stakeholders to discuss practical measures to improve accessibility to published works.

Representatives of people with print disabilities and copyright owners have a common interest: equal access to published works for people with print disabilities.  This is more than a matter of academic interest for me as I am a VIP myself.  A vision Impaired Person. In the following story, I provide a personal perspective on why commercial availability is important in achieving that goal.

My vision impairment has been a gradual process. After suggestions that I was colour blind, that my glasses were scratched or that I was stressed and needed to learn to meditate, an organic cause for my poor vision was discovered when I was 27 years old. By that stage I was already working as a copyright lawyer.

While it was great to know that there was a reason why I could not see, my condition is one of those interesting ones that does not lend itself to a precise diagnosis. And without knowing what my condition was, a prognosis was not possible. This meant that adaptation was the order of the day!

I stopped driving, got a monocular to help me read the tram numbers, purchased a special watch and asked my secretary to put a white stripe on my red pens so that I could distinguish them from the black ones. I also became a member of the Talking Book Library.

 

The Talking Book Library was unlike any library I had ever used. Back in those days, I selected titles from a (large print) catalogue. Books were then sent to me randomly in tape form. I decided it would be good to hone my listening skills on some literary classics such as Voss by Patrick White and Madame Bovary by Flaubert. And then one day, Nana by Emile Zola arrived in the post. Nana is French novel, and is full of references to French names and places. The problem was that the person reading the book had no facility with French whatsoever. While this might not have been a problem had I been listening to the book at high speed, for me it was like fingernails on a blackboard.

 

This was my first introduction to the problems that VIPs have with access to print material. And I didn’t like it. I wanted to continue to read books of my own choosing and I wanted quality. And so I started borrowing or buying commercial talking books: Dirt Music by Tim Winton, The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry, Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama. While commercial talking books are often abridged and do not include page numbers, footnotes and other information, I do not mind this when I am reading for recreational purposes.

 

When it comes to my professional life, I have experimented with various adaptive tools: from magnifying glasses, and large print photocopies, to closed circuit televisions and software programs such as Zoomtext and JAWS. To give you some idea of how technology has changed, in the mid- 90s I bought a 20-inch monitor that would allow me to magnify text. It cost many thousands of dollars and weighed so much that I had to get a custom built desk that could hold the weight! Less than two decades on, I have a light and stylish 27-inch computer on my desk. All the software I need came as part of the standard package. The adaptive technology has now been “mainstreamed”.

 

These days I run the Australian Copyright Council, the peak body for Australian creators and copyright owners. In 2013 I was lucky enough to attend the Treaty negotiations in Marrakesh. A big issue in the negotiations was when and how exceptions for VIPs and others should apply. For example, should it be possible to rely on exceptions when books are already commercially available in accessible formats? [2]

The Marrakesh Treaty strives to facilitate access to published works by VIPs and others without removing incentives for commercial entities to create content in accessible formats. This is important. For it is innovation and mainstreaming that enables VIPs to enjoy quality content in a timely and affordable manner. Not like Very Important Persons. Just like everybody else!

 

 

 [1] See national Interest Analysis  http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/16_June_2015/Treaties_being_considered

 

[12 For example, Read How You Want is an Australian company that converts books into accessible formats. http://www.readhowyouwant.com/’