Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act. Five years after the Marrakesh Treaty was adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization, the United States joins 37 other countries in this critical step towards its ratification. The Act widens the exceptions that have long prevented people with disabilities from having free access to books in specialized formats, such as braille, large print, or audiobook. This important and hard fought change has the potential to improve access to books for countless people in the United States and across the world.
How does copyright law affect people with learning disabilities?
Under United States law, copies of books can only be made in certain, limited circumstances. However, Congress passed “The Chaffee Amendment” in 1996 which has allowed an exception to copyright law for people with disabilities and permits reproduction of books in specialized formats if they are “exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.”
For people with learning disabilities (LD) in reading, though, the bar has been quite high to have access to books in other formats. People with LD and who have disabilities in reading are required to prove that they are “certified by competent authority as having a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction and of sufficient severity to prevent their reading printed material in a normal manner.” Dyslexia, a disability in reading, is the most common type of specific learning disability (SLD). However, even though individuals with reading disabilities who should otherwise qualify to have access to books in different formats, an “organic dysfunction” can be difficult to document and requires a diagnosis that may only be provided by a medical doctor. As a result, many people with disabilities have been denied access to accessible works.
What will the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act change?
The Marrakesh Treaty was intended to increase the free flow of books in accessible formats between countries and end the book famine that impacts countless individuals with disabilities. While the U.S. signed onto the Treaty years ago, the Act will actually bring U.S. laws into compliance with the Treaty’s purpose.
The Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act will allow free accessible materials to reach many more individuals with reading disabilities. The Marrakesh Treaty leaves behind the current definition of “reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction…” and allows the reproduction of works into an accessible format for any beneficiary person. Under Marrakesh, a “beneficiary” is anyone with a visual impairment or a perceptual or reading disability which cannot be improved to allow for functionality that is equivalent to those without such a disability. In this case, many more children and adults who have a reading disability – such as dyslexia – would benefit from access to works in alternate formats.
What does this mean for individuals with learning and attention issues?
For all students and individuals with reading disabilities in the United States and many more throughout the world, ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty would mean one thing – opportunity. If Marrakesh is ratified, more children will be eligible to receive accessible format books in schools, more accessible books will available domestically, and the circulation of accessible of books across the globe will be improved. In short, the Marrakesh Treaty would expand access to literary works, improve opportunity, and change lives.
After years of advocacy with partners in the disability and education fields, we are excited to to celebrate this milestone and see the Marrakesh Implementation Act become law. It is a critical step towards ratification of this treaty and increasing accessibility for people with disabilities in the United States and globally.