Senate Passes International Marrakesh Treaty Benefiting the Blind and Visually Impaired

Stevie Wonder congratulates representatives from WIPO's member states and non-governmental organizations( on the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty for the visually impaired.
Stevie Wonder congratulates representatives from WIPO’s member states and non-governmental organizations(NGOs) on the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty for the visually impaired.

Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act Passes In Senate; Awaits House Vote

It’s a pretty rare occurrence on Capitol Hill these days for a bill to quickly get a vote and then pass with bipartisan support. But this week, such a unicorn graced the halls of the United States Senate, with the bipartisan Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act passing with unanimous consent (meaning no senator objected to the bill). More impressive still, the bill managed to pass without a single amendment tacked onto it.

The Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act, if passed, would see the United States following a set of laws stemming from the Marrakesh Treaty to Facility Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities. And yes, before you ask, the name of the treaty really is that long.

The bill is currently awaiting approval from the House Committee on the Judiciary, after which it will be up for a vote in the House of Representatives.

The multilateral Marrakesh Treaty was signed in 2013 by fifty-one countries. Stevie Wonder was in Morocco to congratulate representatives from WIPO’s member states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty. Since then, many of those countries have ratified the treaty, including Australia, Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Israel, Kenya, Kyrgyz, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay. The United States and the European Union have not yet signed or ratified, though the Senate passage of the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act is an immeasurably big step forward.

“I am thrilled that the United States will join the thirty-five other countries that have agreed to share braille books, audiobooks, and other published materials across borders and around the world,”  said Senator Edward Markey (D-MA). “By increasing the availability of such materials, this treaty will help millions of blind and visually-impaired people afford and access books and other written works that capture our imagination, foster education, and support economic opportunity.”

Introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in March, the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act has found bi-partisan support, with Republicans like John Kennedy, Orrin Hatch, and Bob Corker joining Democrats Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, Patrick Leahy, and others.

The Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act and the international treaty it’s linked to would loosen copyright restrictions, allowing for the creation of accessible versions of published materials. In basic terms, this would allow someone to translate something from print into braille or release an audiobook version so that people who are blind or otherwise visually impaired can access them. The treaty has collected widespread support from advocacy groups, including the American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, National Federation of the Blind, American Library Association, Association of College and Research Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Authors Guild, Benetech, National Music Publishers Association, and the Perkins School for the Blind.

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