Leading library organizations, EIFL, AfLIA (African Library and Information Associations and Institutions) and IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), call on Malawi to embrace the spirit of the Marrakesh Treaty by dropping a legal requirement to check if a work is commercially available before an accessible format copy can be made.
An analysis by EIFL of Malawi’s copyright law, adopted in September 2016, shows that while the new law permits a range of library activities and services, complex conditions limit in practice what libraries in Malawi are permitted to do.
EIFL, AfLIA and IFLA are particularly concerned that libraries will be required to establish whether an item is commercially available before an accessible format copy can be made, restricting their ability to provide equal access to works on the same basis as those without a disability.
Global experts also voice their concerns in the joint statement.
“For a work published outside Malawi, it is impossible to ascertain with certainty whether it is available in the format needed. For Malawi’s community of more than 10,000 people who are blind or visually impaired, it would inevitably result in information requests that are delayed or denied,” said Dick Kawooya, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, USA.
A commercial availability requirement undermines the objective of the Marrakesh Treaty which is to end the global ‘book famine’ for persons with print disabilities.
“The Marrakesh Treaty is a bold international initiative to address the ‘book famine’, in particular, in sub-Saharan Africa where the absence of accessible texts is acute. Malawi’s copyright law should show itself to be as generous as the Treaty itself, and should not impose restrictions and unnecessary costs on libraries striving to provide Malawians with accessible materials,” said Professor Peter Jaszi, American University Washington College of Law.
“The diversion of limited resources available for accessibility work to commercial availability research is, from our point of view, an unacceptable waste of philanthropic and public resources. Therefore we won’t provide Bookshare content under the Marrakesh Treaty to countries with a commercial availability test. Nor will we offer the Bookshare technology platform for domestic accessible library services in such countries,” said Jim Fruchterman, Founder/CEO Bookshare, the world’s largest accessible online library for people with print disabilities.
EIFL, AfLIA and IFLA call on the government of Malawi to empower libraries to provide the best services that they can to people in Malawi with print disabilities for education, employment, and leisure. But to achieve this, the requirement for a commercial availability test must be dropped.