Treaty For The Blind Comes Into Force… But US Refuses To Ratify Because Publishers Association Hates Any User Rights
from the shameful dept
For many, many, many, many years, we’ve followed the rather crazy trials and tribulations of trying to get an international treaty signed to make it easier for the blind to access copyright-covered works (basically requiring countries to allow visually-impaired accessible versions to be reproduced and distributed). This is a treaty that people have tried to get in place for years and years and years, and it was blocked again and again — often by legacy copyright industries who flat out refuse to support any kind of agreement that could be seen as strengthening user rights, which they see (ridiculously, and incorrectly) as chipping away at copyright. Amazingly, despite a last minute push by the MPAA and the Association of American Publishers, an agreement was reached and signed in 2013, called the Marrakesh Agreement. As we noted at the time, we fully expected the legacy copyright industries to refocus their efforts on blocking ratification in the US, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
Hell, it took almost three years for the White House to finally send over the treaty to the Senate for ratification. That happened back in February, and they sent it together with another copyright-related treaty, the very troubling Beijing Treaty that creates an entirely new form of copyright for performers. So far, the Senate has moved on neither issue. However, to have the Marrakesh Treaty go into effect, it needed 20 countries to ratify it. And while the US has sat still, a few weeks ago, Canada became the 20th country to complete the ratification process. That means the agreement officially goes into effect on September 30th of this year. As the EFF noted:
That?s another significant step for a treaty that has already made some important breakthroughs as the first international treaty focused exclusively on the rights of users of copyrighted material. Typically, if user?s rights are considered at all, they?re relegated to a section on ?limitations and exceptions? or even as non-binding introductory text. In the Marrakesh Agreement, they are front and center.
That post also noted that it should be a no brainer for the US to ratify this:
United States law is already compliant with Marrakesh, but the government has not yet ratified the agreement. To do so requires a two-thirds vote from the Senate, and then a formal ratification from the President. Even at a time when passing legislation has proven exceedingly difficult, the Marrakesh Agreement would be a relatively easy and uncontroversial way to demonstrate leadership internationally and help bring books to millions of blind, visually impaired, and print-disabled people around the world.
But why hasn’t it happened? According to KEI, a group that fought hard for many years to get the agreement in place, the legacy copyright industries are working hard to block it in Congress:
The Obama Administration has asked the US Congress to ratify the treaty… but Congress has yet to act, in large part due to lobbying from the Association of American Publishers…. The AAP lobbied the Administration for changes in the U.S. ratification package, and now have asked the Congress for changes that they failed to obtain in the interagency review process. The U.S. ratification already represents compromises, including limitations of exports to countries that have ratified the treaty, a provision that currently excludes all of Africa and Europe. But the AAP continues to press for additional amendments to the ratification legislation.
This isn’t a huge surprise, the AAP more or less admitted that they would refuse to support anything that established greater user rights, since that would be seen as an attack on “their rights.” And, of course, the MPAA has also been working hard to block it, whining that this treaty could (gasp!) “affect other future treaties.”
All of that is just shameful. This is a no-brainer situation. Helping the visually impaired get access to these works is something everyone should agree is a good thing. And yet, because they’re so scared of user rights expanding in any way at all, the legacy industries have to block it.