The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on June 27, 2013 adopted a landmark new treaty that boosts access to books for the benefit of hundreds of millions of people who are blind, visually impaired and print-disabled.
The treaty, approved after more than a week of intense debate among negotiators gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco, is the culmination of years of work on improving access for the blind, visually impaired, and print disabled to published works in formats such as Braille, large print text and audio books.
“This treaty is a victory for the blind, visually impaired and print disabled, but also for the multilateral system. With this treaty, the international community has demonstrated the capacity to tackle specific problems, and to agree a consensus solution. This is a balanced treaty, and represents a very good arbitration of the diverse interests of the various stakeholders,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.
The treaty, called the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled, addresses the “book famine” by requiring its contracting parties to adopt national law provisions that permit the reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats through limitations and exceptions to the rights of copyright right holders.
“There are no winners and no losers, this is a treaty for everyone,” said Morocco’s Minister of Communications and Government Spokesperson Mustapha Khalfi.
The treaty also provides for the exchange of these accessible format works across borders by organizations that serve the people who are blind, visually impaired, and print disabled.
It will harmonize limitations and exceptions so that these organizations can operate across borders. This sharing of works in accessible formats should increase the overall number of works available because it will eliminate duplication and increase efficiency.
Instead of five countries producing accessible versions of the same work, the five countries will each be able to produce an accessible version of a different work, which can then be shared with each of the other countries.
Currently, it is left to national governments to define what limitations and exceptions are permitted.
In practice, limitations and exceptions contained in national laws vary widely. In many countries copying for private use is free, but only a few countries make exceptions for, say, distance learning. Moreover, the exemptions apply only in the country concerned.
The treaty is also designed to provide assurances to authors and publishers that that system will not expose their published works to misuse or distribution to anyone other than the intended beneficiaries.
The treaty reiterates the requirement that the cross-border sharing of works created based on limitations and exceptions must be limited to certain special cases which do not conflict with the normal exploitation of the work and do not unreasonable prejudice the legitimate interests of the right holder.
The treaty calls for cooperation among its contracting parties in order to foster cross-border exchanges.
The parties are committed to increasing the availability of published works as quickly as possible, and this cooperation will be an important step toward achieving that goal.