As the political world was focused on the Liberal government’s inaugural budget last month, Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, introduced his first bill as minister by quietly moving ahead with plans to reform Canadian copyright law to allow for the ratification of an international treaty devoted to increasing access to copyrighted works for the blind.
The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Marrakesh Treaty expands access for the blind by facilitating the creation and export of works in accessible formats to the more than 300 million blind and visually impaired people around the world. Moreover, the treaty restricts the use of digital locks that can impede access, by permitting the removal of technological restrictions on electronic books for the benefit of the blind and visually impaired.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the Canadian decision to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty is long overdue. The Conservatives announced plans to do so in last year’s budget but waited to table legislation days before the summer break and the election call. With that bill now dead, the Liberals have rightly moved quickly to revive the issue.
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This week’s signing of the TPP in New Zealand provides a useful reminder that a potential ratification means committing to far more than just one (very large) trade agreement. One of the Troubles with the TPP is that the intellectual property chapter requires all countries to ratify or accede to as many as nine international IP treaties. In other words, the treaties within the treaty are a core part of the obligations that come with TPP.
Article 18.7 specifies that all countries have already ratified or acceded to three IP treaties: the Patent Cooperation Treaty, Paris Convention, and Berne Convention. More notably, there are as many as six additional treaties that must be ratified or acceded in order to ratify the TPP:
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The Trouble with the TPP series (Day 1: US Blocks Balancing Provisions) spends the next few days examining the TPP’s copyright provisions. One of the most controversial aspects of the 2012 Canadian copyright reform process involved the anti-circumvention provisions, often referred to as the digital lock rules. The U.S. pressured Canada to include anti-circumvention rules, which were required for ratification of the WIPO Internet Treaties, within the copyright reform package. They feature legal protections for technological protection measures (TPMs, a broader umbrella that captures digital rights management or DRM) and rights management information (RMI).
There was an enormous amount of scholarly analysis on these issues throughout the reform process. For example, I wrote about the flexibility in implementing the WIPO Internet Treaties, Carys Craig wrote about the negative implications for fair dealing, Ian Kerr wrote about the broader implications of digital locks, Jeremy deBeer focused on the constitutional concerns, and Mark Perry wrote about rights management information. Moreover, David Lametti, now a Liberal MP and the Parliamentary Secretary for International Trade, wrote about the incoherence of the digital lock rules. The academic analysis was decidedly negative about the legal reforms as was the broader public, which made the issue a top priority as part of the 2009 copyright consultation.
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Countries from around the world last year reached agreement on a landmark copyright treaty designed to improve access to works for the blind and visually impaired. As the first copyright treaty focused on the needs of users, the success was quickly billed the “Miracle in Marrakesh” (the location for the final round of negotiations) with more than 50 countries immediately signing the treaty.
The pact, which was concluded on June 27, 2013, established a one-year timeline for initial signatures, stating that it was “open for signature at the Diplomatic Conference in Marrakesh, and thereafter at the headquarters of WIPO [the World Intellectual Property Organization] by any eligible party for one year after its adoption.”
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that in the months since the diplomatic conference, 67 countries have signed it. The list of signatories includes most of Canada’s closest allies, including the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, and France. The major developing economies such as Brazil, China, and India have also signed the agreement. Curiously absent from the list of signatories, however, is Canada.
The issue was raised in the House of Commons by NDP MP Peggy Nash, leading to the following exchange with Industry Minister James Moore:
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Negotiators from around the world gathered in Marrekesh, Morocco late last month for a diplomatic conference aimed at concluding a new United Nations treaty to improve access to copyrighted works for people who are blind or have other perceptual disabilities. Despite years of discussions, there was ample reason for pessimism.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the treaty talks had become bogged down in the months leading up to the conference, with large lobby groups such as the Motion Picture Association working feverishly behind the scenes to undermine it through changes to rules on digital locks and fair use.
As the deadline approached however, the majority of the world lined up behind user rights for the blind. With Canada playing an important facilitative role, the negotiators were ultimately able to craft compromise language that resulted in a new landmark treaty. More than 50 countries immediately signed on, suggesting that the treaty is well on its way to establishing new rights for the blind (20 countries must ratify it before the treaty formally takes effect).
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