Joining forces to help end the global book famine: China ratifies the Marrakesh Treaty

On 23 October 2021, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, ratified the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (hereinafter referred to as 'the Marrakesh Treaty'). China signed this treaty as one of the initial signatory countries on 28 June 2013, at Marrakesh, Morocco. 

The Marrakesh Treaty is one of the WIPO’s administered international copyright treaties. Adopted on 27 June 2013 and entered into force on 30 September 2016, it features ‘a clear humanitarian and social development dimension’ dedicated to protecting the right to read for the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disabled people (VIPs).

As noted by the World Blind Union, the worldwide book famine for VIPs is severe, as they are unable to read over 90 per cent of all published materials. Materials need to be reproduced into accessible formats, such as braille, large print and audio editions which require exceptions to be added into current copyright rules. The Marrakesh Treaty seeks to ‘make the production and international transfer of specially adapted books for people with blindness or visual impairments easier’. This has been done by creating ‘a set of limitations and exceptions to traditional copyright law’. As of today, 83 contracting parties (109 countries) around the world have ratified or acceded to the Marrakesh Treaty. 

In China, a similar book famine needs to be addressed. Efforts have been made in many areas, e.g. 1,174 public reading rooms have been supplied with braille books and audiobooks. At the legislative level, one noticeable highlight is that Chinese laws have expanded from ‘the blind’ to also cover ‘the dyslexics’, in view of the wider scope of ‘beneficiary persons’ defined in Article 3 of the Marrakesh Treaty. 

Before 2020, the Copyright Law of China (CLC) provided a narrow exception permitting ‘translation of a published work into braille and publication of the work so translated’ without permission from and without remuneration to the copyright owner. The 2020 CLC amendment came into effect on 1 June 2021 and extended the exception above to ‘providing published works for dyslexics in a barrier-free way through which they can perceive’. 

In article 50.1(2), the CLC 2020 amendment also extended the avoidable technical measures stipulated by article 12(2) of the Regulation on the Protection of the Right to Communicate Works to the Public over Information Networks from: 

‘When published written works are provided not-for-profit to the blind in a manner, they can perceive them through the network and the said works can only be obtained through the information network’ to:

‘Providing published works that cannot be obtained through normal channels for dyslexics in a barrier-free way through which they can perceive for non-for-profit purposes’ (emphasis added). 

China is in the initial stages of implementing the Marrakesh Treaty domestically. The journey of complying with the treaty will open new chapters in many aspects. Ambiguities in legislation are expected to be discussed and clarified. One immediate question would be regarding the expression of ‘the dyslexics’. Does it refer to visual disabilities only or to the specific manifestations of the impairments, e.g. language processing difficulties? And what are its overlaps and differences with the VIPs as in the Marrakesh Treaty? 

This Kat is quite interested in the further discussions on the ‘authorised entity’. Article 2(c) of the Marrakesh Treaty defines the authorised entity as ‘an entity that is authorised or recognised by the government to provide education, instructional training, adaptive reading or information access to beneficiary persons on a non-profit basis. It also includes a government institution or non-profit organisation that provides the same services to beneficiary persons as one of its primary activities or institutional obligations’. China has only one National Braille Press. Considering the inflated cost of producing braille publications and the great benefit of enriching the variety of works, could granting market access to more non-profit entities help the beneficiary persons of the treaty? Then, how should the regulations be implemented? And how to balance the interests of multiple parties? The list of inquiries grows.

Implementing the detailed Marrakesh Treaty into the domestic legal governance framework will require compatible changes in many aspects. This will involve the CLC and its Regulation on the Implementation and a more comprehensive range of corresponding codes and regulations. The process has begun—Looking forward to seeing effective and timely access to the perceivable works and welfare to the persons in need.

Photo courtesy: <Fluffy is reading> by Shijie Shang (Fluffy's dad).

Joining forces to help end the global book famine: China ratifies the Marrakesh Treaty Joining forces to help end the global book famine: China ratifies the Marrakesh Treaty Reviewed by Tian Lu on Sunday, October 31, 2021 Rating: 5

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