People with disabilities worldwide battle what has been described as a ‘book famine’. The ‘famine’ refers to the fact that less than 10% of published works, such as books and educational materials in developed countries, and less than 1% in developing countries are ever made into accessible formats, such as Braille, large print or audio. Wits University Scholarly Communications Librarian, Denise Rosemary Nicholson, argues that SA’s new Copyright Amendment Bill could help the country take ‘an important step’ in tackling its own ‘book famine’. In her take on the new Bill on The Conversation site, Nicholson notes that currently, blind and partially-sighted students have to purchase the printed version of a textbook and then have it converted into Braille. On the other hand, a sighted person can browse, copy and read a chapter of a book or a journal article for personal study, research or personal use. ‘A blind or visually-impaired person would first need to loan the book from the library, then find someone to browse the chapters for them before they can decide what section to use, then find someone to convert that information into an accessible format – all at a cost and delay.’ Nicholson says because the current copyright law does not have any exceptions for people with disabilities, people who cannot afford these services will not be able to access that material.
However, SA’s Department of Trade & Industry has committed to ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty as soon as the Copyright Amendment Bill has been enacted. The Treaty makes the production and international transfer of specially-adapted books for people with blindness or visual impairments easier, by establishing a set of limitations and exceptions to traditional copyright law. Says Nicholson: ‘It’s time for SA to catch up. Once it ratifies the Marrakesh Treaty, it will be able to exchange accessible formats across borders. It will also reduce costs and duplication of effort by organisations and individuals who provide services to people with disabilities.’