The most quoted statistic about the “book famine” for blind and visually impaired people (VIPs) is that in developed countries, like New Zealand, VIPs have access to only 5% of all published books. Historically this has been due to the fact that so few books have been produced in formats such as braille, large print and audio that are accessible to VIPs.
Developments in digital technology are helping to change this for some VIP readers and Copyright Licensing (CLNZ) has been working with the Royal NZ Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB) for the past two years on a project known as TIGAR* that is also a step in the right direction towards improving access. However the most recent and brightest news in the provision of access to published works for VIPs came in June this year when a new World Intellectual Property Office Treaty was agreed in Marrakesh. This quickly became known as the Marrakesh Treaty and is an agreement between the member states of WIPO that each country will implement the requirements of the Treaty into its legislative framework.
There’s lots of tedious international treaty and law specifics I could go into at this point, but that’s not what you want to, or need to, know. What you need to know is “what does this mean to me as a publisher?” Given that New Zealand already has a copyright exception for the creation of accessible format copies of copyright works for VIPs (in Section 69 of the Copyright Act), we’re already well down the track towards complying with the terms of the Treaty. Our current Copyright Act however doesn’t define the position on importing and exporting accessible copies and this may need to be changed.
Importing and exporting accessible files is what’s happening in the TIGAR project, but that’s with a signed agreement between WIPO, RNZFB and CLNZ and with title-by-title clearance by publishers.
So what does happen in New Zealand at the moment? RNZFB provides an invaluable service for its members in creating and distributing accessible copies of books and other text-based materials. A large number of these are produced as narrated audio – an audio file where someone with a voice that’s easy to listen to reads the entire book out loud and this is recorded into a digital format. These files are copied to a CD and distributed to RNZFB members by the team in the RNZFB library in Parnell, Auckland. Each member can receive a number of books at a time and, on returning the CD, access more files/books for their reading pleasure – just like any other library service. This work is funded by donations the RNZFB receives each year.
When it comes to education texts RNZFB has other formats and means by which it distributes content. Some of these are made possible by the publisher being able to provide a digital file to assist with the creation of the required format. Others are created from a hard copy of the text.
Section 69 of the Copyright Act includes a condition that an accessible copy can only be made if a book is not already commercially available in the format in which the VIP needs it. Where the required format is braille, it is unlikely that the publisher will have that format available. But if the required format is audio or large print then, in the world of digital formats, the publisher may already have the book commercially available in that format. For example, the company Read How You Want provides commercial editions in large print, braille and daisy editions for some publishers.
As a publisher, you may be contacted by someone at RNZFB to ask for a file or in regard to permission for a particular work. The information above is provided as a short story (with all the important bits) on how Section 69 works in practice between publishers and the RNZFB. If you need to know more about the workings of this particular area of copyright, please contact me – firstname.lastname@example.org
*TIGAR stands for Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources. Launched in November 2010 by the WIPO Stakeholders’ Platform, TIGAR is a three-year pilot project that seeks to facilitate cross-border transfer of copyrighted works in accessible formats among various national institutions or Trusted Intermediaries (TIs), notably national libraries serving those with print disabilities.