Access to copyright works for visually impaired people from 1 January 2021

Guide

Last updated 30 January 2021

UK copyright law contains provisions which allow disabled people, and individuals and organisations acting on their behalf, to make copies of copyright works in accessible formats (such as Braille books, subtitled films), from non-accessible originals, without infringing copyright.

Amendments to the UK’s copyright law were introduced through the EU’s Marrakesh Directive in 2018. Since leaving the EU, the UK ratified the Marrakesh Treaty in its national capacity, providing continuity and legal clarity for rightholders, disabled people, and the individuals and organisations that support them.

The Treaty harmonises copyright exceptions (acts that do not need the permission of the copyright owner) for blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled people so that accessible versions of copyright works can be legally produced under certain conditions without infringing copyright. The Treaty also provides, in certain circumstances, for the import and export of accessible copies made under such exceptions between signatory states.

The key Treaty provisions are that:

  • all Contracting Parties must make an exception to copyright in their domestic law to ensure that, under certain circumstances, accessible versions of copyright works can be made for visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled people without the need for permission from the copyright owner (Article 4);
  • organisations working on behalf of visually impaired people are able to export accessible versions of works, made under their national exceptions, to similar organisations or individuals in another country (Article 5);
  • all Contracting Parties must allow the import of qualifying accessible copies of copyright works, where the domestic law of the exporting country permits the making of such accessible copies, for export (Article 6)

The Treaty includes a number of safeguards to ensure that copyright owners continue to receive adequate protection for their works and incentives to create new works. In particular, it reaffirms existing commitments to the “three-step test” – a provision in international copyright law which operates to ensure that exceptions to copyright do not unreasonably harm copyright owners’ interests or undermine markets for copyright works.

More information on the Marrakesh Treaty is available.


First published 26 November 2020