[A2k] Copyright law for the blind needs fine-tuning: Geist
manon.ress at keionline.org
Mon Apr 18 10:54:30 PDT 2016
Copyright law for the blind needs fine-tuning: Geist
Ottawa's move to allow ratification of Marrakesh Treaty a good first step,
but more needs to be done.
By: Michael Geist Technology, Published on Mon Apr 18 2016
As the political world was focused on the Liberal government’s inaugural
budget last month, Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and
Economic Development, introduced his first bill as minister by quietly
moving ahead with plans to reform Canadian copyright law to allow for the
ratification of an international treaty devoted to increasing access to
copyrighted works for the blind.
The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Marrakesh Treaty expands
access for the blind by facilitating the creation and export of works in
accessible formats to the more than 300 million blind and visually impaired
people around the world.
Moreover, the treaty restricts the use of digital locks that can impede
access, by permitting the removal of technological restrictions on
electronic books for the benefit of the blind and visually impaired.
The Canadian decision to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty is long overdue. The
Conservatives announced plans to do so in last year’s budget but waited to
table legislation days before the summer break and the election call.
With that bill now dead, the Liberals have rightly moved quickly to revive
The treaty (and the Canadian bill) addresses three key issues.
First, the bill establishes a new rule that permits non-profit
organizations acting on behalf of persons with a print disability to
reproduce copyright works in accessible formats without the need for
permission from the copyright holder. This ensures that more accessible
works will be created and distributed in Canada.
Second, once an accessible version of the work is created, the bill also
allows the non-profit organization to make it available upon request to
persons with print disabilities in other countries that are part of the
treaty. With many countries signing on, this approach offers the potential
to significantly increase the availability of accessible works with
exchanges across borders.
Third, the bill amends the overly restrictive digital lock rules enacted in
the 2012 copyright reforms. The Conservative government claimed that an
exception for the blind addressed concerns that the law could create
significant access restrictions. But the reforms represent a tacit
admission that the exception is ineffective.
Interestingly, the same restrictive language is used in an exception
designed to address privacy concerns, suggesting that further copyright
reforms are needed.
While the introduction of the bill represents an excellent first step,
upcoming committee hearings offer the opportunity to fine tune the Canadian
approach, which is more restrictive than required by the treaty.
For example, the Canadian bill envisions the possibility of establishing
additional fees payable by the non-profit organization to copyright
collectives. The Marrakesh Treaty does not require adding royalty payments
and many countries (including the United States) do not have such a
The Canadian approach to exporting accessible works to other countries is
also unnecessarily complex. The export exception does not apply to works
that are “commercially available” “within a reasonable time and for a
reasonable price” in the other country.
The limitation seems likely to create uncertainty and legal risks for those
using the exception, creating the danger that some organizations may be
reticent about exporting works for fear of running afoul of the law.
The limitation is not found in proposed legislation developed by
international groups representing libraries and those with print
Despite its shortcomings, the decision to focus on the world’s first user
rights treaty sends a strong signal that the government recognizes the
importance of ensuring that the law does not unduly restrict access to
With the Marrakesh Treaty nearly reaching the 20 ratifications necessary to
take effect, the government must move quickly if it wants Canada to stand
as one of the original group of ratifying countries.
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce
Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can be reached at
mgeist at uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca .
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