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Treaty ends “book famine” for people with visual impairments

Treaty ends “book famine” for people with visual impairments
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry (left) received on June 30, 2016 Canada's instrument of accession to the Marrakesh Treaty from Canadian Ambassador Jonathan Fried. Photo: WIPO (Flickr.com/WIPO).

Canada has become the 20th country to ratify an international agreement allowing copyrighted material to be reproduced in accessible formats for blind and visually-impaired people around the world.

In 2014, Australia was the 12th country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty which needed 20 countries to do so before the terms would be triggered.

Canada’s new legislation will bring the terms of the Treaty, negotiated by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), into force on September 30 this year.

The agreement 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 – such as Braille – through limitations and exceptions to the rights of copyright rights holders.

It also provides a framework to protect the commercial interests of rights holders by requiring people to first seek to purchase material locally before relying on the treaty to reproduce copyrighted works in an accessible format.

In effect, the Treaty suspends copyright for the purposes of “authorised agencies”, (such as libraries, government bodies, or non-government organisations) reproducing and supplying alternative-format works to people with a recognised vision or other disability.

See the effects of the Marrakesh Treaty:


What are the benefits?

A WIPO stamp, showing an orange silhouette head, with pictures of a ballerina, a cello, a book and a ruler near the brain to symbolise creativity.
Photo: WIPO (Flickr.com/WIPO)

The effects of the Treaty are expected to reduce costly duplication of materials and increase efficiency for the community.

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.

It is also expected to significantly increase access to printed materials such as books and magazines, create educational opportunities, enhance the social participation of people with disabilities and alleviate poverty by allowing these people to participate more fully in the community.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are some 285 million blind and visually impaired persons in the world, 90 per cent 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 digitised 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 per cent are made available in formats accessible to visually impaired persons.


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