QUT’s Intellectual Property and Innovation Law Research program has lodged a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department calling on the Australian Government to take clear positive steps to address the book famine. The book famine is a massive an ongoing problem. Around to world, an estimated 285 million people are visions impaired. Despite more than 129 million book titles being available worldwide, persons with print disabilities in developed countries only have access to less than 7 per cent of this vast resource.
It is extremely important to ensure that people with disabilities can access information and cultural works on an equal basis with others. Access is fundamentally important to enable people with disabilities to fully participate in economic, social and political life. This is both a pressing moral imperative and a legal requirement in international law.
Australia should take clear steps to affirmatively redress the fundamental inequalities of access that people with disabilities face. This requires a fundamental shift in the way with think about copyright and disability rights: the mechanisms for enabling access should not be a limited exception to normal distribution, but should instead be strong positive rights that are able to be routinely and practically exercised.
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled aims to increase the number and range of books available worldwide. It creates a new global regime for efficiently sharing accessible books and reducing the cost of digitisation.
The AGD called for public feedback on the method of implementation of Australia’s obligations under the treaty. The invitation for feedback included their options for implementation of the treaty, as well as calling for alternative approaches to be recommended. The options suggested by the AGD are:
- Keeping the existing exceptions available for the production, distribution and use of accessible copies, with only a minor amendment allowing import and export of such copies;
- A moderate amendment which allows import and export of accessible copies, and alleviates some of the burdens of apply for a licence to distribute accessible copies, while preserving the exception currently available for the use of accessible copies; and
- A flexible approach, which allows the import and export of accessible copies, alleviates the burdens of apply for a licence to distribute accessible copies, and creates a new ‘fair use’ or ‘fair dealing’ exception for the use of accessible copies.
Of these options, we argue that the third option is the most suitable approach to address the book famine, and accords with the recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission.
In order to bring Australia closer to true equality, more needs to be done to address the book famine. To do so, we recommended that:
- Australia should introduce a clear, simple and flexible fair dealing or fair use exception for reproduction and communication of accessible versions for the purposes of enhancing access to people with disabilities;
- Any exception should be medium and disability-neutral, not limited merely to print disabilities;
- A mandatory electronic deposit scheme should be introduced that enables the National Library of Australia to efficiently supply accessible digital repositories;
- Public funds should be made available to digitise works that are not currently available in accessible form;
- A clear exception should be created to enable private entities to invest in making works accessible to people with disabilities, even on a for profit basis;
- A clear exceptions should enable individuals to make and share accessible copies for the benefit of people with disabilities; and
- A clear and semi-permanent exception to anti-circumvention law should be introduced to enable both organisations and individuals to remove technological protection measures for the purposes of making works accessible.