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Copyright Roundup, Part II

In Copyright Roundup Part I we discussed the fair use of an “aesthetically displeasing” photograph, copyright protection for cheerleading uniforms, and copyright ownership for non-human authors. In this post we will discuss the latest development in the Google Books litigation, fair use considerations in issuing DMCA takedown notices, and the public domain status of Happy Birthday to You.

Another fair use win for Google in most recent Google Books lawsuit.

Many of our readers are familiar with the Google Books litigation which began in 2005 when a number of publishers and the Authors Guild brought separate lawsuits against Google for Google’s Library Project.[1]  As part of the project, Google partners with research libraries to digitize works in the participating libraries’ collections. Digital scans of books are indexed and added to Google Books, providing the public with the ability to do full-text searches of terms within the books. Users can use the full-text search function in Google Books to determine how many times a particular term appears in any book within the Google Book collection. Absent an agreement with the copyright owner, Google does not provide the full scans to the public. Users can, however, see snippets of text containing the searched-for terms. Additionally, Google provides a digital copy of the scanned book back to the submitting library.

On October 16, 2015, the Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, holding Google’s digitization activities to be a transformative fair use. In analyzing the fair use factors, the court identified Google’s new purpose in providing otherwise unavailable information about the books, allowing users to identify works that include (and do not include) terms of interest. The court also found the snippet view to add important value to the search function, providing users with the context necessary to determine if the book fell within their scope of interest. While Google is a for-profit company, the Google Books project is provided as a free service without advertising. The court found Google’s ultimate profit motivation was not enough to deny a fair use finding in light of other factors, including its transformative purpose in using the works.

The court held that use of the entire work was reasonably appropriate to achieve the transformative purpose of enabling a full-text search function. For the snippet view feature, Google had a blacklisting process in place to permanently block about 22% of a book’s text from snippet view. In addition, researchers for Authors Guild were only able to access an aggregate of 16% of a text. The fragmented and scattered nature of the snippets results in an insubstantial amount of the work being displayed.

The court held the search and snippet view functions did not serve as a competing substitute for the original works. While snippet view may cause some loss of sales it did not rise to the level of meaningful or significant effect upon the potential market or value of the copyrighted work required to tilt the fourth factor in favor of the Authors Guild.

Finally, the court held that providing library partners with the digital copies of the works in their own collections was not infringing. Whether the libraries would then use the copies for infringing purposes was mere speculation and insufficient to place Google as a contributory infringer.

Why does it matter?

Despite ongoing litigation, Google continued their partnerships with libraries to digitize works in library collections, meaning they faced huge potential costs in damages. Consequently, this decision was a big fair use for Google, partnering libraries, and the public who use Google Books.

In his opinion, Judge Leval emphasized the goal of copyright to expand public knowledge and understanding, making the public, rather than the individual author or creator of a work, the primary beneficiary of copyright. Google’s activities served this goal. Public knowledge was augmented by making available information about the scanned books without serving as a substantial substitute for the copyrighted works.

The Authors Guild has indicated their intention to appeal the ruling but it will be up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether they will hear the case.

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Copyright Roundup, Part I

The past few months have seen a number of interesting trials and developments in copyright law. We are providing a two-part Copyright Roundup to summarize those cases you may have missed and to let you know why they are important. In part I, we discuss embarrassing photos, cheerleading uniforms, and monkey selfies.

Blogger’s use of “aesthetically displeasing” photograph of Miami Heat investor still a fair use.

We first covered the facts in the Katz v. Chevaldina case in our blog post, “Copyright as an Instrument for Censorship?”, noting that Mr. Katz had filed an appeal of the district court’s finding that defendant Irina Chevaldina was entitled to summary judgement based on a fair use defense. On September 17, 2015, the 11th Circuit released their opinion, affirming the lower court’s decision. Analyzing the purpose and character of use, the court found every use of the Mr. Katz photo to be primarily educational, rather than commercial (educating others about the nefariousness of Mr. Katz) and use of the photo to be transformative (Chevaldina used the photo to ridicule and satirize Mr. Katz’s character). When considering the nature of the copyrighted work, the court found the previously published photo to be primarily a factual work (the photo was a candid shot and the court found no evidence to establish that the photographer attempted to “convey ideas, emotions, or influence Katz’s expression or pose”.[1] Finally, the use of the photo would not materially impair Katz’s incentive to publish the work—because Katz obtained ownership to prevent publication, there was no market for the original work.

Why does it matter? Katz’s conduct in initiating this lawsuit raised some big questions about the role of copyright law in censoring speech. In this case, Katz’s attempt to use copyright law as a shield against unwanted criticism ended up helping to strengthen Chevaldina’s fair use defense. The court’s central question under the fourth fair use factor was whether Chevaldina’s use of the photo would cause substantial economic harm that would impair Katz’s incentive to publish the photo. By obtaining the copyright in the photo and initiating a lawsuit to prevent publication of the photo, however, Katz demonstrated his desire to stop any use of and access to the photograph. The court held that Chevaldina’s use of the photo did not impair Katz’s incentive to publish the photo because Katz had no incentive to publish the photo and the likelihood of Katz changing his mind was “incredibly remote.”

The court also had an interesting analysis of the factual nature of the photograph. For a thoughtful discussion of this point, read Kevin Smith’s post, “Photography, Fair Use and Free Speech.”

Copyright protection for cheerleading uniforms: Varsity Brands v. Star Athletica

Varsity Spirit Corporation and Varsity Spirit Fashions and Supplies, Inc. (Varsity) designs and manufactures cheerleading apparel and accessories, having received copyright registrations for many of their design sketches. These designs included different combinations and arrangements of stripes, zigzags, chevron, and color blocks. The question on appeal was whether these elements were needed to make a cheerleading uniform or whether the design elements could exist separately from the uniform.

On August 19, 2015, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision that Varsity’s designs were not physically or conceptually separable from the utilitarian function of the cheerleading uniform, holding that the graphic designs on Varsity’s cheerleading uniforms were separate and therefore copyrightable. The Court distinguished Varsity’s design from dress designs, which typically do not receive copyright protection.

Why does it matter? U.S. copyright does not protect useful articles. Useful articles are articles that have a utilitarian function beyond portraying the appearance of the article or conveying information. To the extent that a work includes a useful function, copyright will only protect those original elements of the work that can be independently separated from the useful function of the work.

Prior to this case, the Sixth Circuit (binding authority for Ohio’s federal district courts) had not adopted an approach for determining separability. After reviewing the approaches taken by other circuits, the Sixth Circuit decided to adopt a hybrid approach to determine if a particular design is a copyrightable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work. To make this determination, the following questions must be asked:

  1. Is the design a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work?
  2. If yes, is it a design of a useful article?
  3. If the design is of a useful article, what are the utilitarian aspects of the useful article?
  4. Can the viewer of the design identify pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features separately from the utilitarian aspects of the useful article?
  5. Finally, can the pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features of the design of the useful article exist independently of the utilitarian aspects of the useful article?

In answering these questions, the court identified a utilitarian function of a cheerleading uniform to “cover the body, wick away moisture, and withstand the rigors of athletic movements.”[2] The court found that the top and skirt of the uniform could still be identified as a cheerleading uniform even without stripes, chevrons, color blocks, or zigzags. Finally, the interchangeability of the designs indicates the graphic features can exist separately and independently from the utilitarian features of the uniform.

Can a monkey own a copyright?

The “Monkey Selfie” case has taken an additional twist with a new lawsuit brought on behalf of Naruto, the crested macaque. The monkey selfie case began in 2011 when photographer David Slater took a trip to Indonesia and left his camera unattended. A monkey (Naruto) used the camera to take a number of photos of himself grinning into the camera. One self-portrait was reproduced in publications around the world, eventually being added to Wikimedia Commons under the presumption that the work was in the public domain.[3] This prompted Mr. Slater to issue several DMCA takedown notices.

In 2014, Mr. Slater published a book containing copies of the Monkey Selfies, continuing to assert himself as copyright owner of the photographs. Later that year, the Copyright Office revised the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, to clarify that the U.S. Copyright Office would not register works produced by animals, including, for example, “a photograph taken by a monkey.”[4]

On September 21, 2015, PETA filed a copyright lawsuit on behalf of Naruto against Mr. Slater, alleging that Mr. Slater falsely claimed to be the author of the photographs and made unauthorized copies of the works for commercial purposes. The lawsuit seeks an order to permit PETA to administer and protect Naruto’s rights in the photographs, declaring Naruto the author and copyright owner of the works.

Why does it matter? U.S. copyright law does not specify human authorship, though the U.S. Copyright Office has provided guidance on the issue through the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices. This case raises a number of interesting questions around how we define, or should define, “author.” If non-human authors are recognized as eligible copyright owners, should lines be drawn? Should the law, for example, provide exclusive rights to machines? And if the author can’t communicate their preferences, should we allow someone to speak on their behalf?


We will continue our Copyright Roundup in part two, where we will look at some important fair use developments in the Google Books lawsuit and Stephanie Lenz’s “dancing baby” case against Universal Music and answer the question, “is Happy Birthday to You finally in the public domain?”


By Maria Scheid, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries


[1] Katz v. Chevaldina, No. 14-14525 (11th Cir. 2015).

[2] Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC, No. 14-5237 (6th Cir. 2015).

[3] Wikimedia Commons refused to remove the photograph on the basis that Mr. Slater was not the author of the work. Without a human author, Wikimedia Commons argued, the work may not be protected by copyright.

[4] U.S. Copyright Office, Compendium of the U.S. Copyright Office Practices (3d ed. 2014) § 313.2.

Open Access Week 2015

Open Access Logo

Next week is Open Access Week (October 19-25)! Open Access (OA) is a global movement that encourages making scholarly resources more freely available over the internet in order to maximize the impact and accessibility of research, especially research that has been funded with public money. Open Access Week is an event where members of the academic and research community teach, learn, and share information about the OA publishing model.

Want to learn more about Open Access? View the resources linked below:

And check out the workshops and initiatives happening at Ohio State in support of Open Access:

Open Access Publishing: Potentials and Pitfalls (Discussion Forum)

Are you curious about open access publishing? Have you published in an open access journal, or are you considering this as a possibility? Have you received questionable solicitations to publish your research or had a run-in with a predatory publisher? If you answered yes to any of these questions and want to know more about who can help, join Sandra Enimil (Head, Copyright Resources Center) and Melanie Schlosser (Digital Publishing Librarian) to learn some tips for steering clear of unethical publishing practices and some ways that researchers can benefit from scholarly open access publishing.

Who: OSU faculty, graduates, and postdocs
When: Wednesday, October 21, 12:00 – 1:00pm
Where: Thompson Library, Room 165

Register here:

Lunch & Learn: Creative Commons

Please join the University Libraries’ Copyright Resources Center for a lunch and learn about Creative Commons (CC). The session will introduce CC and explore how CC licenses benefit creators and users of licensed material. These licenses contribute to affordability and the development and use of Open Educational Resources, a particularly relevant topic for us in light of the university-wide focus on affordable learning. Bring your lunch and your questions!

Who: OSU faculty, staff, and students
When: Thursday, October 22, 12:00 – 1:00pm
Where: Thompson Library, Room 204

Space is limited. Please RSVP at the following link:

Changes to OSU Libraries’ website copyright information and licensing

In support of Libre Open Access, content on The Ohio State University Libraries’ (OSUL) website for which OSUL owns the copyright (or has permission to sublicense) will be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license.  The CC BY license enables others to share, reuse, and remix OSUL content so long as they credit The Ohio State University Libraries as the source of the original material and they indicate if changes have been made. For more information, please visit:

Open Access at The Ohio State University Libraries

More than 20,000 theses and dissertations by Ohio State students are open access via the Libraries’ partnership with the OhioLINK ETD Center. With participation from thirty universities and colleges in Ohio, the OhioLink ETD Center houses a combined collection of over 50,000 electronic theses and dissertations and has over 25 million total downloads worldwide.

The Libraries Publishing Program works with faculty, students, and academic units at OSU to publish open access scholarly work in a variety of formats. This program provides free or low-cost publication development and hosting, and serves as an alternative to working with a commercial publisher.

OSU’s institutional repository, the Knowledge Bank, provides digital content publishing and archiving for OSU faculty, staff, and graduate students. Many materials in the Knowledge Bank are available open access.

The Faculty of The Ohio State University Libraries is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible. In keeping with that commitment, the Faculty adopted an open access resolution effective July 1, 2012: The Ohio State University Libraries Open Access Resolution



By Jessica Chan, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries

Copyright in Campaigns

Election Day may still be over a year away but the 2016 Presidential campaign is already underway. As a battleground state, Ohio will experience a lot of political activity over the next 14 months.  Among the anticipated barrage of political ads, full calendar of rallies, and around-the-clock media coverage of campaign activity, we will see our friend: copyright. Copyright protects a wide variety of works—speeches, websites, marketing materials, etc.—so long as the work is original and fixed in a tangible format. This blog will highlight some of the many areas you will see copyright pop up during the campaign season.

Political Speeches:

Original political speeches written by candidates (or speechwriters) receive copyright protection, meaning the author of the speech may exercise control over the reproduction, adaptation, distribution, and performance or display of the speech. Two categories of works are not covered by copyright, however: works that fail to meet the fixation requirement and works created by federal employees within the scope of their employment. This means that speeches made at town hall meetings or political rallies may not be protected by copyright, unless those speeches were recorded or transcribed. It also means that works created by incumbent presidents or U.S. Senators or Representatives, if made within the scope of their employment, lack copyright protection and are free to use. For example, a speech made and recorded by Bernie Sanders within his role as Senator or a report written by Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State may be used without permission. A work created by a non-federal employee (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Had a Dream” speech), however, may still be protected by copyright.

When speeches are televised, the broadcasting entity televising the speech (e.g., CBS, Fox News, C-SPAN, or CNN) may hold a separate copyright in the broadcast recording. This is true even if the speech itself is made by a federal employee within the scope of their employment or is otherwise in the public domain.

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Copyright in the Libraries: Special Collections

Copyright touches many library services because we collect, share and loan original works fixed in a wide variety of tangible media. The Copyright Resources Center conducted a series of informational interviews with faculty and staff from various areas of The Ohio State University Libraries to discuss the ways in which they engage with copyright issues. This blog series documents those conversations, and highlights how copyright law helps to shape services provided by the Libraries. See all posts in the series here.

photo of Nena Couch

Nena Couch, Head of Special Collections

The Ohio State University Libraries are home to several special collections spanning a variety of subject areas. These collections contain many rare, primary source, and unique materials around a particular topic or area of study, and serve as a rich resource for education, research, and other projects. Special collections often contain objects beyond traditional publications, lending additional complexity to copyright questions regarding these materials. I met with Nena Couch, Head of Thompson Library Special Collections, and Beth Kattelman, Associate Professor and Curator of Theatre, to discuss the ways that copyright influences the Libraries’ special collections such as the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute (TRI).

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Copyright in the Libraries: Music and Dance Library

Photo of Alan Green

Alan Green,
Head Librarian for Music and Dance and
Adjunct Professor at the School of Music

Copyright touches many library services because we collect, share and loan original works fixed in a wide variety of tangible media. The Copyright Resources Center conducted a series of informational interviews with faculty and staff from various areas of The Ohio State University Libraries to discuss the ways in which they engage with copyright issues. This blog series documents those conversations, and highlights how copyright law helps to shape services provided by the Libraries. See all available posts in the series here.

The Music and Dance Library at The Ohio State University houses a diverse collection of materials in a wide variety of media: compact disc and tape recordings, books, sheet music, DVDs, VHS, serials, vinyl records, and more. I met with Alan Green, Head Librarian for Music and Dance and Adjunct Professor at the School of Music, and Sean Ferguson, an Assistant Librarian at the Music and Dance Library, to discuss the ways that copyright affects their services, collections, and patrons.

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Copyright in the Libraries: Fine Arts Library

Copyright touches many library services because we collect, share and loan original works fixed in a wide variety of tangible media. The Copyright Resources Center conducted a series of informational interviews with faculty and staff from various areas of The OSU Libraries to discuss the ways in which they engage with copyright issues. This blog series documents those conversations, and highlights how copyright law helps to shape services provided by the Libraries. See all available posts in the series here.

Profile photo of Sarah Falls

Sarah Falls, Fine Arts Librarian

Sarah Falls, Assistant Professor, is the Head of the Fine Arts Library at OSU, and as Fine Arts Librarian, Sarah supports the Departments of DesignArt, History of Art, Arts Administration, Education and Policy, and the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. I met with Sarah to discuss copyright and the arts, and the unique influence copyright exerts on these particular disciplines.

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Copyright in the Libraries: eReserves

Note: This blog has been updated to reflect the fact that the eReserves service within the University Libraries has been discontinued.

Copyright touches many library services because we collect, share and loan original works fixed in a wide variety of tangible media. The Copyright Resources Center conducted a series of informational interviews with faculty and staff from various areas of The Ohio State University Libraries to discuss the ways in which they engage with copyright issues. This blog series documents those conversations, and highlights how copyright law helps to shape services provided by the Libraries. See all available posts in the series here.

The Ohio State University Libraries previously provided an eReserves service to assist instructors with uploading supplementary course readings to Carmen (the learning management system used at OSU). Terry Camelford, the Program Coordinator for eReserves, met with me to discuss her team’s work and how they navigated the copyright issues related to eReserves.

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Copyright in the Libraries: Digital Content Services (Part 2)

Copyright touches many library services because we collect, share and loan original works fixed in a wide variety of tangible media. The Copyright Resources Center conducted a series of informational interviews with faculty and staff from various areas of The Ohio State University Libraries to discuss the ways in which they engage with copyright issues. This blog series documents those conversations, and highlights how copyright law helps to shape services provided by the Libraries. See all posts in the series here.

Photo of Maureen Walsh

Maureen Walsh,
Institutional Repository Services Librarian

Digital Content Services at The OSU Libraries includes the Libraries’ Publishing Program and the Knowledge Bank, OSU’s institutional repository (this post focuses on the Knowledge Bank, while Digital Content Services: Part 1 discussed the Libraries’ Publishing Program). Melanie Schlosser (Digital Publishing Librarian) and Maureen Walsh (Institutional Repository Services Librarian) are interim co-heads of Digital Content Services; Melanie and Maureen met with me to discuss the ways that copyright affects their work in the publishing program and the institutional repository. In fact, they observed that not a day goes by when they aren’t thinking about copyright, as they are constantly working with copyrighted materials and “someone else’s content.”

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Copyright and Accessibility

Many educational institutions, including Ohio State, share the mission of advancing and encouraging the spread of knowledge. At times, however, the exclusive rights of copyright owners can impede this mission by conflicting with the important objective of making works accessible to all, particularly to individuals with disabilities. Even with the emergence of new technologies that facilitate instantaneous copying and dissemination of materials, owner control over reproduction and distribution of works has continued to create an obstacle to the growth of works in formats accessible to individuals with print, hearing, or other disabilities. Statistics from the World Blind Union reveal, for example, that of the approximately 1 million books published per year, less than 5% are made in formats accessible to the print-disabled.[1] Given the significant societal benefit that is achieved by promoting equal access, it is important to understand the provisions of copyright law that currently support the growth of works in accessible formats and identify opportunities for further change.

Current U.S. copyright law lacks a blanket exception for accessibility, relying instead on a patchwork of statutory exceptions and the doctrine of fair use. This blog will cover some of these current key exceptions, as well as potential developments under national and international law.

The Chafee Amendment and Performance of Literary Works under §110

One important provision in copyright law that promotes accessibility to copyrighted works is the Chafee Amendment. The Chafee Amendment (17 U.S.C. § 121) permits an authorized entity to reproduce or distribute copies of previously published nondramatic literary works if the copies are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.

Authorized entities include nonprofit organizations or governmental agencies “whose primary mission is to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities.” The vagueness surrounding the definition of “authorized entity” has contributed to confusion and reluctance to rely on the protections set forth in the Chafee Amendment. Do educational institutions like The Ohio State University, who are bound to comply with the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),[2] qualify as authorized entities? Publishers assert that only institutions who specialize in promoting accessibility (e.g., the National Library Service for the Blind), not educational institutions in general, qualify as authorized entities. Educational institutions, on the other hand, argue that their work and legal obligations under federal law establish them as authorized entities under the Chafee Amendment.

The Copyright Act also provides narrow exceptions for the performance of literary works. Section 110(8) permits certain eligible entities to perform nondramatic literary works by or in the course of a transmission specifically for the print or hearing disabled when the transmission is noncommercial. Section 110(9) permits an authorized radio subcarrier to make a single transmission of a dramatic literary work for the print disabled if the performance is noncommercial and the work was published at least 10 years before the performance.

Current & Proposed Exemptions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits any individual from circumventing technological protections measures placed on a work. For example, you cannot decrypt DVDs protected by Content Scrambling System (CSS). The law, however, provides exemptions to this anti-circumvention rule. One current exemption, in effect from 2012-2015, allows for the circumvention of electronically distributed literary works that are protected by technological measures when those technological protection measures prevent the enabling of read aloud functionality or interfere with screen readers or other assistive technologies. Literary works must be lawfully obtained by a blind or other person with a disability (for nondramatic literary works the work must be lawfully obtained and used by an authorized entity under the Chafee Amendment) and the rights owner must be appropriately remunerated for the price of the mainstream copy of the work. A renewal of this exemption has been requested in the 2015 triennial review.[3]

Another current exemption permits the circumvention of motion pictures and other audiovisual works that are on DVDs protected by the Content Scrambling System (CSS) or distributed by an online service that is protected by technological measures, in order to facilitate research and development of players that are capable of providing captioning or descriptive audio.

The Important Role of Fair Use

The statutory exceptions listed above are relatively narrow in their applications, including limitations on who may reproduce or transmit a work, the type of work that may be reproduced or transmitted, and who may benefit from such activities. One exception in copyright law that has been instrumental in filling in the gaps left by these narrow exceptions and promoting accessibility for copyrighted works has been fair use.[4] A recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has reinforced the significant role of fair use in increasing the accessibility of copyrighted works.

In Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust,[5] HathiTrust created a shared digital repository of collection materials from academic and research member institutions, allowing full access to patrons with qualifying disabilities. The district court held this activity was permissible under the Chafee Amendment, stating that educational institutions “have a primary mission to reproduce and distribute their collections to print‐disabled individuals…[making] each library a potential ‘authorized entity’ under the Chafee Amendment.” The court held, however, that HathiTrust was not precluded from relying on the defense of fair use in the event that they were not authorized entities or did not otherwise fall within the permissible categories of the Chafee Amendment. On appeal, the Second Circuit held that providing full digital access to print-disabled patrons was protected under fair use. [6]

International Considerations: Adoption of the Marrakesh VIP Treaty

U.S. copyright law may also be influenced by international agreements. One international treaty directed to making works more accessible is the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities (“Marrakesh VIP Treaty”). The Marrakesh VIP is an international treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which would obligate signatory countries to create mandatory limitations and exception to their copyright laws pertaining to “the right of reproduction, the right of distribution, and the right of making available to the public…to facilitate the availability of works in accessible format copies” for the benefit of people with print disabilities.[7] The treaty would also permit exchange of accessible works across borders by authorized entities serving the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disabled. Finally, the Treaty provides that contracting parties take appropriate measures to ensure that any anti-circumvention restrictions do not prevent the blind, visually impaired, or print disabled from enjoying any of the exceptions provided for in the Treaty.

The Treaty, adopted on June 27, 2013, will go into force three months after 20 eligible entities have acceded to or ratified the Treaty. There is currently accession or ratification from ten nations. The United States signed the Treaty on October 2, 2013 but has not yet ratified the Treaty.

In Conclusion

Making copyrighted works available in accessible formats can present a challenge to the exclusive rights of copyright owners. Absent a blanket exception that would allow for the creation of accessible formats for all persons with disabilities, individuals and educational institutions must navigate the existing narrow statutory exceptions or rely on a fair use defense in order to make works accessible. While society recognizes the importance of incentivizing creators to create new works, we must also recognize the importance of establishing equal access to those works in order to advance public knowledge and encourage further creation of works.

Accessibility Resources


By Maria Scheid, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries

[1] Limitations and Exceptions: Access to Books for the Visually Impaired – Background Brief, World Intellectual Property Organization, (last updated January 2014).

[2] Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides that no qualified individual with a disability, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from participating in, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal funding. 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires public entities to make reasonable modifications when necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability. 28 C.F.R. Sec. 35.130(b)(7).

[3] 79 FR 73863 (December 12, 2014).

[4] The House Report on the Copyright Act of 1976 also identifies making accessible copies of works for the blind as an illustrative application of the fair use doctrine (“…the making of a single copy or phonorecord by an individual as a free service for a blind persons would properly be considered a fair use under section 107.” H.R. Rep. No. 94-1476, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. (1976).

[5] 902 F. 22 Supp. 2d 445, 460‐64 (S.D.N.Y. 2012).

[6] 755 F.3d 87 (2d Cir. 2014).

[7] Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled art. 4, June 27, 2013, TRT/MARRAKESH/001.

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