Sunday, August 28, 2016

'Book famine' as government prepares to miss deadline

The Turnbull government has been accused of extending Australia's "book famine" by sitting on draft legislation designed to give blind, partially sighted and dyslexic Australians the sort of access to books available overseas.

Former disability commissioner Graeme Innes says he and other vision-impaired Australians can't import legally-produced audio and braille books without the specific permission of the publishers. He says when he asks, he often doesn't get a response.

The US-based Bookshare website offers almost half a million braille, large print and audio titles on line, but Australia's restrictive copyright rules mean only 193,000 are available here.

Draft legislation released in December would have opened up BookShare to Australians in one of the biggest ever shakeups of Australian copyright law. It would also have protected local organisations and carers who wanted to make their own accessible copies of copyrighted books.

It was designed to come into force with the introduction of the Marrakesh treaty on international access to published works on September 30, but it hasn't yet been introduced into parliament and isn't on the program for next week.

On Friday shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus wrote to communications minister Mitch Fifield offering his support for an urgent passage through parliament. A spokeswoman for Senator Fifield told Fairfax Media that the bill wasn't essential in order to comply with the Marrakesh treaty, but said it would be introduced "at the earliest opportunity".

"It's pretty mean to suggest that it's not essential," Mr Innes responded. "It's easy to say if you are able to read books. I don't understand why it's not high up on the program."

Bruce Maguire, lead policy advisor for Vision Australia said the law was needed to allow accessible to be shared between countries as the treaty intended.

"Swift passage will be a great example of how the new Parliament can work for all Australians," he said.

The bill also removes an anomaly that has given perpetual copyright to historic letters and other unpublished documents, meaning that organisations such as the Australian War Memorial are unable to digitise them if there are no heirs left to provide permission.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald