On April 27, 2015 the Canadian federal government announced that Canada would be signing onto the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. The Treaty, which is intended to help individuals with print disabilities access written materials, was adopted in 2013 and is intended to modify existing copyright laws internationally to create exceptions for reproduction, distribution and making available to the public of materials in alternate formats for those with disabilities.

According to a News Release posted by the federal government, once the Treaty comes into force, 285,000 adapted works from 13 countries, in more than 55 languages, will be available to Canadians with print disabilities. With only 7 per cent of published books ever being made available in audiobook or Braille conversion formats, the increase in access will be significant.

On June 8, 2015, the government proposed amendments to the Copyright Act to bring it into compliance with the requirements of the Treaty. Bill C-65, which is short-titled “Support for Canadians with Print Disabilities Act”, amends sections 32 and 32.01 of the Copyright Act. While these sections already addressed exceptions for Canadians with perceptual disabilities, the amendments make important changes, including providing more specificity for the relevant definitions and removing limitations that presently exist in the currentCopyright Act.

Some of the changes include:

  • Section 32, which carves out exceptions to infringement by specific reproductions of works in alternate formats, is proposed to be amended such that s. 32(1)(a) would contemplate fixing a performer’s performance in a format designed for persons with perceptual disabilities. The addition of s. 32(1)(b.1) would allow a person with a perceptual disability to have, or access, a work or other subject-matter, in a format specially designed for them, and to do any act necessary for that purpose.
  • Sections 32(2) and 32(3) presently provide the limitations to the infringement exceptions of s. 32(1). The sections currently do not authorize the making of large-print books, and stipulate that if a work is commercially available in an accessible format, it may not be reproduced or made available under the Copyright Act. The amendments propose to replace these sections with one section that removes the limitation against large-print books and defines “commercially available” as “available on the Canadian market within a reasonable time and for a reasonable price and may be located with reasonable effort”.
  • Section 32.01, which contemplates sending copies of the alternate format outside of Canada, previously only permitted the sending of copies if the author was a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, or a citizen or permanent resident of the country to which the copy was sent. This has been removed in the proposed amendments.

Interestingly, while the Treaty allows for members to decide whether they wish to include remuneration for authors of the reproduced works nationally, the proposed amendments of Bill C-65 do not provide for this.

To come into force, the Bill must pass Parliament before the session ends, which is anticipated to occur this month.

June 22, 2015 Update:

On Friday June 19, 2015 the Canadian House of Parliament recessed for the summer. As a result, all Bills that were pending are no longer before Parliament. The amendments to the Copyright Act proposed in Bill C-65, short-titled the “Support for Canadians with Print Disabilities Act”, which was introduced on June 8, will therefore need to be re-introduced after the summer recess if they are to become law.