Disability Advocates Celebrate the End of Australia’s ‘Book Famine’
19 June 2017 at 3:46 pm
Disability advocates are celebrating an end to the so-called “book famine”, which saw the restriction of accessible books to blind, partially sighted and dyslexic Australians due to copyright law.
On Thursday, the senate passed the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill removing the final barrier to implementing the Marrakesh Treaty.
Australia signed the treaty, an international agreement that will help an estimated 285 million people worldwide have greater access to books published in accessible formats, in June 2014.
In a move described as “one of the biggest shakeups [of] Australian copyright law”, the bill will remove restrictions on the ability of Australians to import legally-produced audio and braille books without the specific permission of the publishers.
It will also allow local organisations and carers to make their own accessible copies of copyrighted books.
Vision Australia general manager for advocacy Karen Knight said implementing the Marrakesh Treaty was vital.
“Lack of information negatively impacts on the ability of a person with print disability to access education, employment and inclusion outcomes,” Knight said.
“Currently, only 5 per cent of books worldwide are converted into accessible formats.”
Knight said the proposed changes in the bill would streamline and simplify the existing disability framework in the act and reinforce the point that converting materials into an alternative format was based on the needs of the individual.
“Vision Australia considers the distinction of individuality essential as it allows for materials to be reproduced with greater accessibility than those commercially available which often lack navigation tools,” Knight said.
“The changes will mean we can legitimately reproduce a title into a structured audio file. As an example, this would give a student convenient access to the pages and section headings they actually need to read and learn, but they wouldn’t need to read the textbook from cover to cover.”
Labor shadow minister for disability and carers Senator Carol Brown said Labor welcomed the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty.
“Previously, blind and visually impaired people in Australia had been denied access to many books and other works that were readily available in accessible forms in other countries,” Brown said.
“It has been a long time coming, but today the government has finally acted to implement the Marrakesh Treaty – an international agreement which improves access to thousands of printed works for people with disability under Copyright Law.
“Today, with the passage of the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill through the Senate, this so-called ‘book famine’ has finally ended.”
In a statement Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said the amendment would significantly improve access to copyright materials for people with a vision, hearing or intellectual disability.
He said the bill was also an “important step in bringing Australia’s copyright laws into the digital age”.
“The legislation will simplify and improve copyright licensing provisions for the nation’s collecting societies and educational institutions, and allow educators to use copyright materials more easily in the digital education environment,” Fifield said.
“Libraries, archives and key cultural institutions will now have greater flexibility in preserving copyright materials and, by setting a term of protection for unpublished materials, have greater access to historic and culturally valuable materials.”
“These important reforms will significantly improve access to copyright materials for people with a vision, hearing or intellectual disability.”