Seanad Eireann – Contribution to Commencement Matters – International Agreements.

July 12th, 2016 - Pat Breen

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Pat Breen): As the Cathaoirleach was not in the House on the last occasion I was here, I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his appointment. I thank Senator Conway for raising this important issue. I know the Senator well and I am aware of his special interest in issues affecting people with disabilities.

The Marrakesh treaty was adopted on 28 June 2013 at Marrakesh and was signed by over 50 countries. It is an international agreement under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organisation based in Geneva. The treaty facilitates access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. The object of the treaty is to improve access to books and other publications in braille, large print text and audio format. The treaty also provides for the exchange of works across borders by organisations that serve people who are blind, visually impaired and print disabled.

Canada recently became the 20th state to accede to the treaty, which means the treaty will now come into force on 30 September 2016 for those countries that ratified it. When the treaty comes into effect it will oblige contracting states to introduce limitations and exceptions in copyright law to ensure access to books and other publications in accessible format. It will also oblige contracting states to allow the import and export of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works without the need for permission from the copyright holder. This sharing of works in accessible format should increase the overall number of works available to persons in need.

Ireland played an integral role in the negotiation of the Marrakesh treaty and contributed to the conclusion of the treaty during the Irish Presidency in 2013 of the European Union. Subsequently, the Government approved the signature of the treaty by Ireland and the permanent representative of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva, Patricia O’Brien, signed the treaty on behalf of Ireland on 20 June 2014. This indicates Ireland’s commitment to the objective of the Marrakesh treaty. Ratification of the treaty will require contracting parties to adopt national law provisions which will permit the reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats through limitations and exceptions to copyright. Ireland and other EU member states operate exceptions in their national copyright laws allowing for the adoption of books into formats easier to use for visually impaired persons. This does not operate in a harmonised manner, however, and the current framework does not facilitate cross-border sharing of accessible format copies, which is a cornerstone of the treaty.

The European Union signed the treaty in April 2014 on the basis of a proposal by the Commission and a mandate from the Council of the European Union. In discussions following the act of signature, the Council could not reach agreement ratification within the EU. As a result, the European Commission has formally asked the Court of Justice of the European Union for its opinion on whether the European Commission has exclusive competence to conclude the Marrakesh treaty on behalf of the European Union. This matter remains under consideration by that court.

The EU remains committed to ratification of the Marrakesh treaty, and this commitment is reflected in the Commission communication on copyright published in December 2015. In its communication, the Commission outlined its intention to bring forward legislative proposals to ratify and implement the Marrakesh treaty. These proposals are expected in September 2016. Ireland remains fully supportive of the aims of the treaty and is ready and willing to work proactively in Council towards ratification of the treaty as soon as possible.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Pat Breen): As the Cathaoirleach was not in the House on the last occasion I was here, I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his appointment. I thank Senator Conway for raising this important issue. I know the Senator well and I am aware of his special interest in issues affecting people with disabilities.

The Marrakesh treaty was adopted on 28 June 2013 at Marrakesh and was signed by over 50 countries. It is an international agreement under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organisation based in Geneva. The treaty facilitates access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. The object of the treaty is to improve access to books and other publications in braille, large print text and audio format. The treaty also provides for the exchange of works across borders by organisations that serve people who are blind, visually impaired and print disabled.

Canada recently became the 20th state to accede to the treaty, which means the treaty will now come into force on 30 September 2016 for those countries that ratified it. When the treaty comes into effect it will oblige contracting states to introduce limitations and exceptions in copyright law to ensure access to books and other publications in accessible format. It will also oblige contracting states to allow the import and export of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works without the need for permission from the copyright holder. This sharing of works in accessible format should increase the overall number of works available to persons in need.

Ireland played an integral role in the negotiation of the Marrakesh treaty and contributed to the conclusion of the treaty during the Irish Presidency in 2013 of the European Union. Subsequently, the Government approved the signature of the treaty by Ireland and the permanent representative of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva, Patricia O’Brien, signed the treaty on behalf of Ireland on 20 June 2014. This indicates Ireland’s commitment to the objective of the Marrakesh treaty. Ratification of the treaty will require contracting parties to adopt national law provisions which will permit the reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats through limitations and exceptions to copyright. Ireland and other EU member states operate exceptions in their national copyright laws allowing for the adoption of books into formats easier to use for visually impaired persons. This does not operate in a harmonised manner, however, and the current framework does not facilitate cross-border sharing of accessible format copies, which is a cornerstone of the treaty.

The European Union signed the treaty in April 2014 on the basis of a proposal by the Commission and a mandate from the Council of the European Union. In discussions following the act of signature, the Council could not reach agreement ratification within the EU. As a result, the European Commission has formally asked the Court of Justice of the European Union for its opinion on whether the European Commission has exclusive competence to conclude the Marrakesh treaty on behalf of the European Union. This matter remains under consideration by that court.

The EU remains committed to ratification of the Marrakesh treaty, and this commitment is reflected in the Commission communication on copyright published in December 2015. In its communication, the Commission outlined its intention to bring forward legislative proposals to ratify and implement the Marrakesh treaty. These proposals are expected in September 2016. Ireland remains fully supportive of the aims of the treaty and is ready and willing to work proactively in Council towards ratification of the treaty as soon as possible.

Senator Martin Conway: I thank the Minister of State for a comprehensive update on this matter. The strategy of it being an all-European treaty to be ratified by all countries at the same time is good. Ireland has a small publication of print material while Europe has significantly more. This is a positive update. I know these matters are slow but it is moving in the right direction, which is important.

Deputy Pat Breen: I thank Senator Conway for his positive response. An independent copyright review committee was established by the then Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in May 2011 to examine copyright framework from the perspective of removing any obstacles to innovation. The committee’s report, Modernising Copyright, was published in October 2013. The report contained in excess of 60 recommendations covering a diverse range of issues, including that of the access to justice before the Courts, particularly for low-value claims relating to intellectual property infringements.

Since publication, the Department has conducted extensive analysis of the recommendations, including examination from a policy perspective with relevant Departments and assessment of the complex legal issues involved in certain proposals. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, expects to be in a position in the coming weeks to bring to Government the Department’s response to the committee’s recommendations and to seek approval for legislative proposals on several of its recommendations, including the area of interest to the Senator. I am sure Senator Conway is aware of the copyright review committee, chaired by Dr. Eoin O’Dell. I thank him for raising this issue and will keep him informed of any developments in this area and of the report in September.

Deputy Pat Breen: I thank Senator Conway for his positive response. An independent copyright review committee was established by the then Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in May 2011 to examine copyright framework from the perspective of removing any obstacles to innovation. The committee’s report, Modernising Copyright, was published in October 2013. The report contained in excess of 60 recommendations covering a diverse range of issues, including that of the access to justice before the Courts, particularly for low-value claims relating to intellectual property infringements.
Since publication, the Department has conducted extensive analysis of the recommendations, including examination from a policy perspective with relevant Departments and assessment of the complex legal issues involved in certain proposals. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, expects to be in a position in the coming weeks to bring to Government the Department’s response to the committee’s recommendations and to seek approval for legislative proposals on several of its recommendations, including the area of interest to the Senator. I am sure Senator Conway is aware of the copyright review committee, chaired by Dr. Eoin O’Dell. I thank him for raising this issue and will keep him informed of any developments in this area and of the report in September.