Francis Gurry led WIPO as Director General from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2020.

Marrakesh Diplomatic Conference

Marrakesh, June 17 to 28, 2013

Opening Speech by Francis Gurry, Director General, World Intellectual Property Organization

Your Excellency Mustapha Khalfi, Minister for Communications,
Your Excellency Abdullah Baha, Minister of State,
Honorable Ministers,
Distinguished Delegates,

It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to welcome you to the Diplomatic Conference to Conclude a Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities, which is being held in the magnificent city of Marrakesh.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is profoundly grateful to the Kingdom of Morocco for hosting this Diplomatic Conference and to His Majesty King Mohammed VI for the personal attention that he has so graciously given to the Conference. We appreciate deeply the warmth of the welcome that has been extended to all delegations, the generosity of the Kingdom of Morocco in facilitating the presence here of so many delegates and the excellence of the arrangements that have been made for the Conference. The cooperation that we have received from the Moroccan authorities is typical of the long-standing and ever-constructive engagement of the Kingdom of Morocco in the life of WIPO.

It is fitting that this Conference, which aims to expand possibilities for the enjoyment of culture, should take place in Marrakesh. The historical role of Marrakesh as a center and promoter of learning and culture will act as an inspiration to all delegations as they address the task of finding practical ways in which to make our culture more inclusive by improving the access that the visually impaired and the print disabled have to published works.

The objective of the Diplomatic Conference is a relatively simple and straightforward one – to alleviate the book famine that causes over 300 million visually impaired persons, the majority of them in developing countries, to be excluded from access to over 90% of published works. Speaking in Paris in 1952, on the occasion of the centennial celebrations of the birth of Louis Braille, Helen Keller said that “like a magic wand, the six dots of Louis Braille have resulted in schools where embossed books, like vessels, can transport us to ports of education, libraries and all the means of expression that assure our independence.” The aim of the diplomatic conference is to establish an enabling legal framework that will empower that magic wand, and the magic wands of audio books and large-print formats, by facilitating the production of accessible formats and their exchange across borders.

We arrive in Marrakesh with a political consensus on the part of the international community to accomplish that objective, a consensus that was already expressed in the decision to convene this diplomatic conference. But much work remains to be done in order to translate the objective into a practical, workable framework. That framework will operate in the reality of a global marketplace in which an increasing number of works are published in digital format. The global digital marketplace brings with it the advantage of the vastly improved availability of works and the disadvantage of the vastly increased vulnerability of digital assets to misappropriation. The negotiators have the task, on the one hand, of designing a workable system that will ensure that accessible formats can be produced and exchanged across borders around the world in a simple and easy manner and, on the other hand, of providing assurances to authors and publishers that that system will not expose their assets to misuse in parallel markets that are not intended to serve the visually impaired and the print disabled. Their success, of you the negotiators, in finding the right balance will ensure the success of the treaty.

A successful Marrakesh Treaty will not only deliver a long-awaited benefit to the visually impaired and the print disabled, but will also demonstrate that the multilateral system is capable of overcoming the challenges of diversity of interests and disparity of circumstances to unite around a clearly defined objective. The Member States achieved this unity one year ago in Beijing around a clearly defined objective of including actors and audiovisual performances in the international copyright framework from which they had unjustifiably been excluded. I urge you to renew the spirit of Beijing in Marrakesh and to find unity around the aim of including the visually impaired and the print disabled effectively and fully in our literary culture.

The Government of the Kingdom of Morocco has done everything possible to facilitate our work. In this regard, I should like to pay a special tribute to His Excellency Mustapha Khalfi, Minister for Communications, who has personally overseen the preparations here in Marrakesh, and to Ambassador Omar Hilale, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations in Geneva, who has worked tirelessly, with great attention to every detail, to ensure the success of the Conference. I renew our thanks to the Government and I wish you every success in your extremely important endeavors.