President Obama transmitted the Marrakesh Treaty to the Senate [PDF] on February 10, where it must be approved by a two-thirds vote for ratification.
“This copyright treaty, concluded under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), advances the national interest of the United States in promoting the protection and enjoyment of creative works,” President Obama said in a statement. “The Marrakesh Treaty lays a foundation, in a manner consistent with existing international copyright standards, for further opening up a world of knowledge for persons with print disabilities by improving their access to published works.”
Under the Copyright Act, published works can be converted into accessible formats without seeking the permission of the copyright holder. However, about two-thirds of the world’s countries lack such a “fair use” exception.
In June 2013, after nearly five years of negotiations, representatives from 186 countries reached an agreement to remedy this discrepancy, known as Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.
Under the treaty, signees are required to modify their law to create a similar accessibility exception. President Obama signed the treaty in October 2013.
“This crucial treaty will substantially ease the book famine that currently limits education and opportunity for the blind of this nation and the world,” Mark A. Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said in a news release. “When it is fully in effect, it will give blind Americans the ability to access books in Braille, audio, and other alternative formats from across the globe, as well as provide more books to the blind of all nations.”
Fourteen countries have ratified the treaty thus far, including India, Brazil and Mexico, according to the World Blind Union. The European Union signed the treaty as a single block, but multiple countries, including Germany and Italy, have blocked ratification since the European Commission submitted the treaty to member states for ratification in August 2014.
The treaty goes into effect once it has been ratified by 20 of the signees.
A summary of the treaty, from the World Blind Union, can be read here.