European Union Joins WIPO’s Marrakesh Treaty, Greatly Expanding Coverage

Geneva, October 1, 2018
PR/2018/822

The European Union has joined WIPO’s Marrakesh Treaty in a big expansion in membership for the accord, which eases the creation and transfer across national boundaries of texts specially adapted for use by visually impaired people.

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Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations in Geneva and representative of the 28-member European Union (EU), handed to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry the EU’s instrument of ratification for the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.

With the EU’s ratification, the Treaty will cover 70 countries across the globe.

EU joins Marrakesh Treaty
WIPO Director General and representatives of the European Union at the ratification ceremony (Photo: WIPO/Martin)

“The EU’s ratification marks a major advancement for visually impaired people living inside the European Union as well as in other Marrakesh Treaty contracting parties, allowing them to enjoy texts in accessible formats currently available in any country that has implemented the provisions of the Treaty,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.  “WIPO commends the EU for its commitment to the Marrakesh Treaty and its engagement to ensuring that the multilateral system works for the widest public good.  We urge more countries to join so we can make this a universal, worldwide Treaty so visually impaired people can benefit from any accessible book that is produced in any corner of the globe.”

“At a time when multilateralism is not always easy and has many detractors, it is probably not exaggerated to say that the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty was a little moment of glory which demonstrated the ability of the international community to identify common political solutions,” said Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger. “So today is not only an important step for the European Union and its own citizens with reading disabilities, but also for our friends and partners all over the world of WIPO with whom we share this Treaty.”

Only a small fraction, between one and five percent, of all literature is accessible to blind and visually impaired people, said Ms. Claire Bury, Deputy Director General, Directorate-General Communications Networks, Content and Technology of the European Commission, who attended the ratification ceremony along with representatives of the European Blind Union.

“That sum represents a book famine. If we can unlock for blind people that knowledge, that hope, that thinking - then we will have indeed made a very significant step,” she said. “This Treaty is a great achievement for WIPO. It shows, indeed, that multilateralism is still alive and that through it, we can take some very practical steps that can change people’s lives.”

The European Union joined the Marrakesh Treaty during the 2018 WIPO Assemblies meetings, held between September 24-October 2, 2018 in Geneva. The Treaty enters into force for the European Union on January 1, 2019.

In opening remarks to the WIPO Assemblies, Mr. Gurry welcomed the growing membership of the Marrakesh Treaty, calling it “the fastest moving of the WIPO treaties, not only in the past year, but most probably in the history of the Organization.”

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 production of books in accessible formats, such as braille, e-text, audio or large print, by organizations known as authorized entities that serve people who are print disabled.  It also allows for the exchange of such accessible texts across national boundaries, all without requesting authorization from the copyright owner.  

The World Health Organization estimates that 253 million are living with visually impairments around the world, with the majority located in lower-income countries.

The Treaty was adopted on June 27, 2013, at a diplomatic conference organized by WIPO and hosted by the Kingdom of Morocco in Marrakesh. The Treaty entered into force on September 30, 2016, three months after it gained the necessary 20 ratifications or accessions by WIPO member states.

ABC - The Accessible Books Consortium

WIPO and its partners created the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) in 2014 to help implement the objectives of the Marrakesh Treaty at a practical level.  ABC works 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 on-line catalogue and book exchange of accessible books, known as the ABC Global Book Service.   

Currently, 43 authorized entities have joined this Service, enabling them to search and make requests for accessible books, all for free.  Following the EU’s Marrakesh Treaty implementation, over 270,000 titles will become available in the ABC Global Book Service for cross-border exchange, without the need to obtain authorization from the copyright owner.

The sharing of works in accessible formats through the ABC Global Book Service increases the overall number of accessible works available globally.  The World Blind Union estimates that less than 10% of all published works are produced in accessible formats.  The Service allows participating organizations to supplement their collections from their counterparts in other countries without charge and then distribute to persons in their country who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled.

About WIPO

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the global forum for intellectual property policy, services, information and cooperation. A specialized agency of the United Nations, WIPO assists its 191 member states in developing a balanced international IP legal framework to meet society's evolving needs. It provides business services for obtaining IP rights in multiple countries and resolving disputes. It delivers capacity-building programs to help developing countries benefit from using IP. And it provides free access to unique knowledge banks of IP information.

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