Modernisation of the European copyright rules: the Marrakesh Treaty implementation framework

In “Legal Affairs - JURI”

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The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled was negotiated and adopted in 2013 under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It aims at facilitating the availability and cross-border exchange of books and other print material in formats that are accessible to persons with print disabilities around the world. To that end, the Marrakesh Treaty requires its parties to provide exceptions or limitations to copyright and related rights for the benefit of blind, visually impaired and otherwise print-disabled persons, such as dyslexic people. The treaty also allows for the cross-border exchange of special format copies of books, including audio books and digital files, and other print material between those countries that are parties to the treaty.

The EU signed the treaty in April 2014 and started the transposition process into EU law.

On 14 September 2016, in line with the digital single market strategy, the European Commission presented a legislative package for the modernisation of the EU copyright rules including two texts relating to the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty.

  • The Commission proposed a directive to facilitate the use of certain copyright protected content, without the authorisation of the rightholder, for the benefit of persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled, which implements into EU law the obligations agreed upon in the Marrakesh Treaty. The text provides for a mandatory exception and states the specific permitted uses by beneficiary persons and authorised entities.
  • The Commission also proposed a regulation that lays down rules on the cross-border exchange of accessible format copies of certain works and other subject-matter between the Union and third countries that are parties to the Marrakesh Treaty for the benefit of people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled.

The European Economic and Social Committee adopted its opinion on 25 January 2017. The EESC largely supported the Commission’s draft proposal and called for a swift ratification by the EU of the Marrakesh Treaty.

The proposals for a directive and a regulation implementing the Marrakesh Treaty were referred to the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI), which on 12 October 2016 appointed Max Andersson (Green/EFA, Sweden) as rapporteur. The Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) Committee and the Committee for Petitions (PETI) and the Culture and Education (CULT) Committee provided their opinions at the beginning of 2017. On 28 March 2017, the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI), which is the lead committee, approved the report from rapporteur Max Andersson. The EP report proposed several amendments mostly aiming at clarifying and making more specific and detailed the wording of the two texts. In addition, the proposals have been amended on more substantive issues. For example, the EP called for complaints or redress mechanisms to be put in place by Member States in cases where blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled are denied the permitted uses. Also, the EP asked the Commission to carry out an evaluation of the directive within five years after the date of transposition.

On 10 May 2017, the negotiators of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission (trilogue) have reached a compromise on the draft legislation to implement the Marrakesh Treaty in the European Union.

  • The agreed legislation will introduce into EU law a new mandatory exception to copyright rules, which will allow beneficiary persons and organisations to make copies of works in accessible formats and to disseminate them across the EU and in third countries which are party to the Treaty without asking the prior permission of the rightholders.
  • The text ensures that no commercial availability checks prior to the exchange of accessible format books will be required.
  • Members States will have the option of establishing limited compensation schemes for publishers when their books are turned into accessible format copies.
  • In view of the Opinion of 14 February 2017 from the Court of Justice considering that the conclusion of the Marrakech Treaty does not fall within the common commercial policy defined in Article 207 of the TFEU, the co-legislators agreed to change the legal basis for the rules on the cross-border exchange of materials for blinds and other disable people. Such rules are adopted on the basis of Article 114 TFEU.

The agreement was endorsed by the Council's Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) on 19 May 2017 and by the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs on 30 May 2017. The texts provisionally agreed between co-legislators has been formally adopted by the European Parliament on 6 July 2017 and by the Council on 17 July 2017. The texts entered into force on 20 September 2017 upon publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.  On 18 January 2018, the Parliament approved the conclusion of the treaty the Marrakesh Treaty. The Council adopted a decision approving the conclusion of the Marrakesh Treaty on 15 February 2018.

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Author: Tambiama Madiega, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/11/2019.