Visually impaired to get more access to copyrighted reading materials

The visually impaired in China will have better access to reading materials, including foreign texts, as the Marrakech Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, takes effect on May 5.

The document will become active three months after China delivered its ratification papers to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on Feb 5.

The only international human rights treaty on copyright currently has 88 signatories, according to the WIPO.

It imposes a set of mandatory limitations and exceptions on traditional copyright laws to benefit people who are visually impaired, who have reading or learning disabilities or who are unable to hold or manipulate a book.

Under the treaty, authorized entities will be permitted, without the authorization of the copyright holder, to make an accessible copy of a work for exclusive use on a nonprofit basis.

The treaty also set rules on international exchanges to enable foreign texts to be offered in accessible formats to beneficiaries or authorized entities.

China participated in the drafting and advocacy process and signed the treaty on June 28, 2013, when it was adopted in Marrakech. It entered into force on September 30, 2016.

In November 2020, the Standing Committee of the NPC, China's top legislature, passed a comprehensive amendment to the Copyright Law after nearly 10 years' preparation, and the revised law was enacted in June last year.

It added provisions applicable to the treaty, demonstrating that the country had taken a substantial step toward ratification and implementation, said Yang Yang, an associate research fellow at the Assistive Technology Research Institute at the China Braille Press in Beijing and chief author of a report about the treaty's implementation.

For example, the amendment extended beneficiaries of copyright exceptions from the visually impaired using Braille to people with dyslexia and other reading disabilities. It also expanded the number of ways people can benefit, from transliteration and publication of a work in Braille to any accessible means.

With the necessary legal conditions and institutional preparation in place, the Standing Committee of the NPC ratified the treaty in October.

Yang said the treaty has a broad definition of accessible formats that enjoy copyright exceptions, which will likely lower costs for publishing houses as they seek to gain access to more works, and beneficiaries will have more ways to satisfy their needs. At the same time, beneficiaries of the treaty are obliged to protect copyright by not sharing content to reassure copyright holders.

She added that the National Copyright Administration is working to formulate implementation rules for the treaty in China.

"I expect the implementation of the treaty will meet our reading needs," said He Chuan, vice-chairman of the China Association of the Blind.

He stressed that by definition, the treaty involves not only formal publications, but other materials publicly available in any media.

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