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Australia and Canada exchange first books under the Marrakesh Treaty

30 September 2016

Australians who are blind or have low vision are the first in the world to benefit from the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled through the symbolic exchange of book titles between Vision Australia and CNIB (Canada).

The Treaty, which came into force today and has already been ratified by 22 countries, represents a significant shift in moving copyright power to organisations and individuals. It allows the free sharing of accessible formatted titles between organisations in ratified countries to provide people who are blind, have low vision or print disability access to a global range of content.

Vision Australia General Manager for Accessible Information Solutions, Mr Michael Simpson stated the introduction of the Treaty was a significant inclusive action as currently only around five per cent of books worldwide are converted into accessible formats such as braille, large print or audio.

“Today’s exchange is symbolic and marks the first step in expanding the collection of titles for the print disability communities here in Australia. The books included in the exchange are fiction titles, but in time, we expect other content to become available including journals and periodicals, educational materials and sheet music, Mr Simpson advised.

“Having access to quality information allows people to make decisions and choices in life. The lack of information in accessible formats puts people with print disability at a huge disadvantage with their sighted peers. With more available content the playing field for this community can start to be levelled.”

The Treaty allows organisations that represent print disability communities in ratified countries to make accessible copies of works without having to ask permission from the rights-holders. It also permits the cross-border exchange of accessible format books both between organisations and directly from an organisation to an individual.

“People with print disability will be able to request a larger variety of titles including foreign language titles from organisations such as Vision Australia. This is very important for a multi-cultural country like Australia. We are already talking to our counterpart organisation in Israel and hope to add books from their collection to meet the first-language needs of communities here,” Mr Simpson confirmed.

Australia Digital Alliance Executive Director, Ms Jessica Coates stated that to support the Treaty and simplify the copyright exceptions for people with disability, the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill needs to be passed. The government released an exposure draft of the Bill last December, but is yet to table it before Parliament.

“The proposed changes to the Copyright Act are absolutely essential for the Treaty to be implemented effectively in Australia and for our copyright system to work for Australians with disability. The proposed changes will streamline and simplify the existing disability framework in the Act and reinforce the point that converting materials into an alternative format is based on the needs of the individual,” Ms Coates said. 

Vision Australia considers the distinction of individuality essential as it allows for materials to be reproduced with greater accessibility than those commercially available which often lack navigation tools.

“The changes will mean we can legitimately reproduce a title into a structured audio file. As an example, this would give a student convenient access to the pages and section headings they actually need to read and learn. They wouldn’t need to read the text book from cover to cover,” Mr Simpson concluded.

Media contact: Vanessa Sandhu, Communications Advisor, Vision Australia, 0419 937 327.


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