WIPO Director General Hails a Success for Visually Impaired People and International Community as Marrakesh Treaty Enters Into Force

Geneva, September 30, 2016
PR/2016/794

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry welcomed the entry into force of the Marrakesh Treaty which can now begin boosting the number of specially adapted texts for the benefit of blind and otherwise print-disabled people around the world.

The “books for blind” treaty entered into force on September 30, 2016, three months after it gained the necessary 20 ratifications or accessions by WIPO member states.

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“This is a wonderful day for visually impaired people around the world, who will from today begin benefiting from an increase in number of texts tailored for their use,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “This is also an important victory for multilateralism and the international community, which showed its ability to come together to improve the lives of people around the world, bringing literacy and the opportunity of literacy to visually impaired persons worldwide.”

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled facilitates the creation and transfer across national boundaries of specially adapted books, such as Braille or large print, for use by visually impaired people that the World Health Organization estimates number 285 million worldwide, as well as millions of additional print-disabled persons.

To mark the entry into force of the Marrakesh Treaty, WIPO has organized a symbolic transfer of accessible books in audio format from Canada to Australia via WIPO’s ABC Book Service. The transfer from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to Vision Australia means that Vision Australia does not need to reproduce the books themselves, resulting in a cost savings of around USD$2,000 per book.

Marrakesh Treaty – Ending the “book famine”

The Marrakesh Treaty 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 rightholders.

It 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.  For example, 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.

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 rightholder.

More than 75 WIPO member states have signed the Treaty, which was adopted on June 27, 2013 at a diplomatic conference organized by WIPO and hosted by the Kingdom of Morocco in Marrakesh. For the Treaty to enter into force, twenty ratifications or accessions were required. So far, 22 countries have joined the pact.

WIPO is committed to helping Member States take the fullest possible advantage of the Marrakesh Treaty. It is a leader of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), which was created to help implement the objectives of the Marrakesh Treaty in three areas: the sharing of technical skills in developing and least developed countries to produce and distribute books in accessible formats, promoting inclusive publishing, and building an international database and book exchange of accessible books.

Background for Editors

According to the World Health Organization, there are some 285 million blind and visually impaired persons in the world, 90 percent of whom live in developing countries. A WIPO survey in 2006 found that fewer than 60 countries have limitations and exceptions clauses in their copyright laws that make special provision for visually impaired persons, for example, for Braille, large print or digitized audio versions of copyrighted texts.

According to the World Blind Union, of the million or so books published each year in the world, less than 10 percent are made available in formats accessible to visually impaired persons.

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