Last week, I was privileged to attend the 2014 INSIGHT Conference in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada as a guest. This annual conference brings together teachers, parents, and service providers who work (or live) with students who are blind or have low vision to discuss strategies to improve educational opportunities. While there, I was surprised to learn that Canadian law does not have one of the key exceptions that we rely upon every day.
In the United states, as you may know, we are able to produce books for students and adults with print disabilities in braille, large print, or other specialized formats without the prior, written authorization of the publisher. In Canada, the process is much the same…as long as the books are produced in braille. For students who rely upon large print, it is a violation of copyright law to reproduce books in any format other than braille without the publisher’s permission.
Many teachers told me that, just as we’ve experienced when asking publishers for the electronic versions of printed books, some publishers are responsive and happily provide these rights. Too often, they said, requests go unanswered.
This reminded me about the Marrakesh Treaty, agreed to almost one year ago, by members of the World Intellectual Property Organization. As Dr. Fredric Schroeder explained last summer:
“Today fifty-seven nations around the world have copyright laws similar to our Chafee Amendment. The book treaty for the blind will expand this authority. As each WIPO member nation ratifies the book treaty for the blind, it agrees to change its national copyright law to permit books to be produced in accessible formats without having to seek the prior permission of the copyright holder. This will greatly increase the production of accessible works around the world. But producing more books is only the first step in ending what many have called the book famine. The second major provision contained in the treaty is the authority for nations to share accessible books across national borders.” (source)
Today, 60 countries have signed the treaty (though not one has ratified it) that seeks to “Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.” Canada is not among those countries.
These teachers told me that they are able to purchase (or receive on loan) books that have already been produced from groups like the American Printing House for the Blind, Seedlings, or National Braille Press. However, when it comes to newly-released editions of textbooks or novels, these titles are read aloud to students, depriving them of the opportunity to learn from reading.
The treaty remains open for signature until June of this year. If Canada signs on, it will be an important first step in ensuring a first-class education for Canadian students who have low vision.
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