If you are reading this, you probably are one of the many people blessed with little or no visual impairment. However, there are many people who are visually disabled or impaired. For them, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, a project of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in force since September 2016, opens the door to greater opportunities to literature around the world.
Japan's Diet voted unanimously to join the Marrakesh Treaty. UN Ambassador Junichi Ihara submitted official instrument of accession on October 1, 2018 to WIPO. With this document, Japan is set to implement the Marrakesh Treaty from January 1, 2019.
The treaty requires copyright law to give exceptions or limitations on books for people with sight impairment or disability, such as Braille books and audiobooks. It does this by allowing certain "authorized entities" that serve the sight-impaired or blind to reproduce copyrighted works in formats accessible to the sight-impaired or blind (though not distribute it to others; Art. 4). Each country is allowed to regulate any payment due to the copyright holder by authorized entities.
This is of course a welcome development for accessibility to the written word for people with visual disabilities in Japan. Meanwhile, the Japanese government's support of access to materials in some ways against the copyright of the writers may be an interesting wedge or challenge to the stiff copyright policies being pushed by enforcers of other copyright holders' rights ( JASRAC's fights with music users and arguments over blocking pirated manga comic websites comes to mind). It will be interesting to see how consistent and meanwhile socially and culturally beneficial Japan's overall copyright policies prove to be in the years to come.
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