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University of Toronto Makes First International Transfer of Accessible Books to Kyrgyzstan under Marrakesh Treaty

closeup of fingertips on braille
image CC-BY-NC-ND by Dominique Archambault

On April 23, 2018, World Book and Copyright Day, the University of Toronto (U of T) Scarborough Library made history by facilitating the first international transfer of accessible-format books to beneficiaries in Kyrgyzstan, demonstrating the tangible impacts of the Marrakesh Treaty.

The U of T Libraries acted in response to requests from two beneficiaries in Kyrgyzstan: Dastan Bekeshev, a lawyer and member of parliament who lost his sight at six years of age, and Gulnaz Juzbaeva, an MBA student at the American University of Central Asia who was born with low vision and later became blind. The transfer took place during a national seminar on the Marrakesh Treaty organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in cooperation with the State Service of Intellectual Property and Innovation (Kyrgyzpatent). The request was facilitated by EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) and Sania Battalova, EIFL’s Marrakesh advisor in the region.

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled is a WIPO-based treaty adopted in June 2013. The treaty provides minimum standards for limitations and exceptions to copyright law to create and distribute accessible formats for people with print disabilities and allows for the cross-border exchange of these formats. Cross-border exchange is a critical feature of the treaty and could greatly alleviate what is known as the “book famine,” a situation in which the National Federation of the Blind estimates that no more than 5 percent of published works are created in an accessible format.

This book transfer from the University of Toronto to individuals in Kyrgyzstan demonstrates the ease with which authorized entities and beneficiaries can use the Marrakesh Treaty to gain access to information. Because Canada and the United States share a common language, if the US accedes to the treaty, transfers between the two countries should greatly open up the number of titles available to those who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled.

Canada acceded to the Marrakesh Treaty in June 2016, and Kyrgyzstan did so in May 2017. Both countries have implemented the treaty into national law. In the United States, legislation to implement the treaty, the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (S 2559), was introduced in the Senate on March 28, 2018, and continues to make its way through the Senate process. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on April 18, 2018, which included Jonathan Band, counsel for the Library Copyright Alliance, as a witness. The Senate Judiciary Committee reported the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act unanimously out of committee on May 10, 2018.

For more information on this book transfer, see the April 24, 2018, EIFL news item, “Marrakesh Treaty: History Is Made in Kyrgyzstan,” and the April 23, 2018, EIFL and University of Toronto press release, “Marrakesh in Action: History Is Made in Kyrgyzstan.”

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