Faculty Post: The Marrakesh Treaty: Books for All

This blog post was written by Northeastern University School of Law Professor Hope Lewis, who co-founded the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy for the IntLawGrrls blog.

Missing Information
Have you ever picked up an exciting book and found that pages are missing or damaged?  Nothing could be more frustrating. Most readers feel the same way when they download a much anticipated book onto a tablet or smartphone, only to find that it is garbled or unreadable.

For blind and print-disabled book lovers, it is even more frustrating to know that a helpful book on a topic of interest exists, but is closed to them because it is not available in accessible format. This is a serious and life-altering issue for the estimated 314 million visually impaired people around the world.  According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of them live in the Global South.

The Marrakesh Treaty
Now comes word that a Diplomatic Conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) hosted by Morocco adopted “the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled” (Marrakesh Treaty) on June 27, 2013.   The treaty’s adoption was timed to coincide with the birthday of political activist, author, and educator Helen Keller.

Ending “Book Deserts”
Once ratified and implemented by states parties, the Marrakesh Treaty will help end “book deserts” around the world, where persons who are blind or who have print disabilities are denied access to the full range of print materials.  The World Blind Union notes that “of the million or so books published each year …, less than 5 per cent are made available in formats accessible to VIPs [Visually-Impaired People].” The treaty allows for easier and more uniform cross-border access to, and sharing of, reading materials in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, and accessible digital files.

Why was such a treaty necessary?  These days, can’t people with print disabilities just download the books and articles they need or want from the internet?

Not so easy.

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Faculty Post: The Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath Undermines a Key Response to the HIV Epidemic

By Professor Aziza Ahmed

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) v. Alliance for Open Society Institute. At issue is a provision of the U.S. Leadership Act on HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria, which halts funding to organizations that promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking. To defund these critical public health organizations for their refusal to pledge allegiance to the misguided and dangerous U.S. government position on prostitution puts many lives at risk.

HIV continues to impact marginalized communities at alarming rates. Public health interventions focusing on sex workers create a safe and empowering space in which individuals can learn how to prevent the spread of HIV, receive life saving treatment, and take advantage of testing and counseling services. Continue reading