[Nfbnet-members-list] Blog Post by President Riccobono at Huffington Post: One Thing the President Can Give Blind Americans for Christmas

Danielsen, Chris CDanielsen at nfb.org
Mon Jan 4 17:10:43 UTC 2016

It has been more than two years since the United States signed the 
Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons 
Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, a 
historic international agreement that will allow blind Americans to 
gain access to millions of books in Braille, audio, and other formats 
produced abroad.

Essentially, the treaty promotes uniformity in international 
copyright law so that producers of accessible books throughout the 
world can allow readers in any country to access their collections. 
So if a blind student in this country needs access to a book in a 
foreign language that she is studying, and that book isn't available 
from a United States producer, she will be able to get it from a 
producer in the country where the language is spoken.

Although this treaty has been signed by the United States, it has not 
yet been ratified by the Senate as required by our Constitution. This 
isn't because of Senate inaction, but because the White House has not 
yet submitted the treaty for ratification. The holdup is due to 
preparation of the "ratification package," a set of documents that 
outlines how the treaty will be implemented.

The National Federation of the Blind believes that further delay is 
unnecessary and unacceptable. For that reason, I have written to 
President Obama to urge his administration to give the blind of 
America more books for Christmas by submitting the ratification 
package to the Senate before the year is out. The full text of my 
letter follows.

December 11, 2015

The Honorable Barrack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Urgent Need to Forward the Marrakesh Treaty to the Senate

Dear President Obama:

I last wrote to you on September 10 of this year, emphasizing the 
urgent need to send the Marrakesh Treaty to the Senate without delay. 
We are greatly concerned that the ratification package still has not 
been released and that the window of opportunity to ratify this 
life-changing agreement within your term is closing. We urge you in 
the strongest possible terms to direct your administration to 
transmit the treaty before the end of 2015.

Due to the general practice that is followed in developing a 
ratification package of this nature, we in the public have not seen 
any of the language contained in the draft ratification and 
implementing legislative packages. Nevertheless, as is also customary 
in these proceedings, rumors abound regarding language being 
considered. We wish to address two issues that we understand have 
been delaying the process as of late.

One issue concerns to whom authorized entities in the United States 
may export accessible-format works. Apparently there has been a 
debate about whether authorized entities here in America should be 
restricted to sending accessible-format copies only to other 
contracting parties of the Marrakesh Treaty. Others have apparently 
argued that our authorized entities ought to be able to transmit 
accessible-format copies to any authorized entity or beneficiary 
person who meets the requisite definitions in the treaty. We urge the 
broadest implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty so that our 
collection of accessible books and materials can be shared with the 
blind and print disabled throughout the world who desperately need 
access to information. As long as an authorized entity carries out 
its obligations under the treaty, there is virtually no concern that 
an accessible-format copy will end up in the wrong hands or otherwise 
be abused.

Second, we have also been given to understand that some are 
advocating for greater restrictions on our authorized entities that 
go beyond that which the treaty requires. We are confident that the 
definition of authorized entity contained in the treaty text protects 
rights holders and establishes a system designed to serve blind and 
print-disabled individuals adequately. Following a formal definition 
of "authorized entity," Article 2, Subsection C is descriptive. It 
says, "An authorized entity establishes and follows its own practices:

(i)            to establish that the persons it serves are beneficiary persons;
(ii)           to limit to beneficiary persons and/or authorized 
entities its distribution and making available of accessible-format copies;
(iii)          to discourage the reproduction, distribution and 
making available of unauthorized copies; and
(iv)         to maintain due care in, and records of, its handling of 
copies of works, while respecting the privacy of beneficiary persons 
in accordance with Article 8."

The above quoted section of the treaty is designed to give authorized 
entities wide latitude in fulfilling their defined service role. This 
arrangement was the result of hotly contested negotiations, and 
represents a compromise reached among all stakeholders to this 
process, including the blind, authorized entities, and rights 
holders. There must not be additional requirements on United States 
authorized entities that are more restrictive than existing Section 
121 provisions of the US Copyright Act. The result would be to 
discourage our authorized entities from importing and exporting 
accessible materials and therefore allow the book famine to persist.

Specifically, the additional burdens being considered for our 
authorized entities appear to deal with the issue of record keeping. 
Although Marrakesh describes authorized entities as maintaining 
records, it contains no prescription as to how this is to be done. 
Authorized entities must have this flexibility to maintain their own 
procedures and protect the privacy of their beneficiaries. In fact, 
Article 8 of the treaty requires that the privacy of beneficiaries be 
fully protected. Neither rights holders nor anyone else should be 
able to obtain specific information about who is receiving accessible 
copies or what works they are reading. Privacy is a critical hallmark 
of any type of library system, whether for the blind or not.

We understand that the rights holders are concerned about piracy and 
other infringement of copyright. However, the language already in the 
treaty adequately protects these interests. Marrakesh would require 
that authorized entities be empowered to distribute materials only to 
beneficiary persons or agencies serving them. If a would-be 
authorized entity fails to observe this standard, rights holders are 
free to exercise their right to bring legal action to cease the 
infringement and to recover appropriate damages caused by the 
infringement. Rights holders are far better protected against 
infringement under Marrakesh as opposed to the normal distribution of 
their works to general consumers.

This is not only a theoretical point but one that has been proven 
over time. In the United States, we have lived under a system of 
Marrakesh-like exceptions for nearly twenty years through our Chafee 
Amendment. There is absolutely no proof that the substantial numbers 
of authorized entities that operate here in America have in any way 
increased piracy or have fostered a higher rate of copyright infringement.

President Obama, there are many imagined barriers related to 
blindness, but one of the real barriers is the woeful lack of 
information in an accessible format. Compared to the rest of the 
world, we have an advanced system of producing accessible-format 
copies, yet blind and print-disabled Americans have access to only a 
tiny percentage of the information available here and throughout the 
world. It is imperative that we open up the flow of information to 
the blind and print disabled and end the book famine! Send the 
Marrakesh Treaty to the Senate now!

I thank you for your considered attention to this matter. Please do 
not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any assistance to you on 
this or other matters. I would note that the Christmas holiday is 
very near and that moving this treaty would be a great gift to 
advance access to books by the blind. In that spirit, on behalf of 
the blind of this nation I would offer you and your family the 
warmest of holiday wishes and the hope that 2016 is a year of good 
health and tremendous joy for the Obama family.

Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind


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