The Marrakesh Treaty


More than 800,000 Canadians live with a visual impairment, and around 3 million Canadians are print-disabled, which means that they have an impairment related to comprehension (e.g. autism) or the inability to hold or manipulate a book (e.g. Parkinson's disease). For these individuals, it can be especially difficult to find print material in a format that is both accessible and easy to use. More can be done to ensure that copyright laws do not create additional barriers for those with a print disability and that users have access to the latest and best published material from around the world.

The Marrakesh Treaty aims to bring the global community together to better address the universal challenge of ensuring timely access to, and the wider availability of, printed material for those with a visual impairment.

It sets international standards on certain exceptions to copyright so that print materials can be adapted into formats—such as Braille and audiobooks—that people with disabilities can use. The Treaty also makes it possible to distribute accessible-format copies between countries. The negotiations for the Treaty were led by the World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations agency with 188 member states. The Treaty will come into force once 20 countries have ratified or acceded to it.

The Bill

To address the issue of access to these materials, the government introduced Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Copyright Act (access to copyrighted works or other subject-matter for persons with perceptual disabilities), on March 24, 2016. Bill C-11 was adopted by both the House of Commons and the Senate and received royal assent on June 22, 2016.

Canada's copyright framework already contains exceptions that allow for the making and distribution of accessible-format copies for the benefit of persons with disabilities. To ensure that these are fully in line with the Marrakesh Treaty and to enable Canada to accede to the Treaty, the bill makes targeted amendments to the Copyright Act. The amendments maintain the important balance in Canada's copyright framework between the interests of copyright owners and users.

Persons with disabilities and supporting organizations

The bill allows, within specific parameters, persons with print disabilities and the organizations that support them to make and distribute accessible-format versions of works, including large-print books.

The bill allows the sending of accessible-format copies to other countries, regardless of the nationality of authors, facilitating the cross-border exchange of works in accessible formats with supporting organizations in other countries.

The bill also specifies that technological protection measures (or digital locks) may be circumvented in order to provide access to persons with print disabilities. The amendments remove the condition that the lock not be unduly impaired but require that circumvention be done solely for the benefit of such persons.

These measures will bring benefits to many different groups of Canadians with print disabilities:

  • Students will have better access to print materials, helping them continue with their studies and better engage in the Canadian workforce. According to recent survey data, approximately 35 percent of students with a visual impairment discontinue their education because of their condition.
  • Workers will have greater opportunities. Current data suggests that approximately one third of Canadians with a visual impairment are not in the labour force.
  • Seniors—the group with the highest rates of visual impairment—will have better access to reading materials, which helps maintain their quality of life.
  • Canadians from minority language groups will have better access to books in a variety of languages.
  • Schools, libraries and charitable organizations that work with Canadians with disabilities will benefit from reduced duplication in the production of accessible works.

Protecting authors and publishers

The bill also includes important safeguards to ensure that the legitimate interests of authors and publishers are respected.

Safeguards apply where accessible-format copies are already commercially available. For domestic use and imports, the exceptions do not apply where an accessible-format version is commercially available under reasonable terms in the Canadian market. For exports, the exceptions do not permit the sending of an accessible-format copy to another country if it is commercially available under reasonable terms in that foreign market, but the remedies that may be sought against non-profit organizations are limited in such circumstances.

Finally, other key safeguards, such as protections for the moral rights of creators and the civil remedies available against those who enable online copyright infringement, will continue to apply.

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