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Landmark WIPO Treaty Boosts Access to Books for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons

June 28, 2013
Source: World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

Recording legend Stevie Wonder congratulated international negotiators who concluded a new treaty easing access to books for the blind, and urged national lawmakers to swiftly ratify the accord and unlock its benefits for hundreds of millions of people around the world who are blind, visually impaired and print-disabled.

Some 600 delegates from among the 186 members of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) joined in the debate leading to the adoption of the treaty in the Kingdom or Morocco, which hosted the Diplomatic Conference to Conclude a Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities.

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 [copyright laws].

In his closing speech, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said the treaty, while respecting the international architecture of the copyright system, “will have a positive and concrete impact on the problem that brought us all here to Marrakesh.” He said the treaty “provides a framework for addressing that problem which is simple, workable and effective,” and thereby responds to the expectations of the blind and visually impaired.

International Publishers Association (IPA) President Y. S. Chi said the success of the treaty lies in whether member states ratify the treaty and implement it effectively and actively. “It is clear that neither the print disabled community nor publishers believe that this treaty alone will solve the Book Famine. That issue will be resolved by publishers adopting new technologies and integrating accessibility into their normal production process. In the interim, we are committed to safety nets. This treaty is one of those safety nets.“

On June 28, 2013, 51 member states signed the treaty and 129 signed the final act of the treaty. Signing the treaty at the end of a diplomatic conference does not necessarily bind a country to its provisions. It is however a strong indication of intent by the signatory to join the treaty. The treaty enters into force once it has received 20 ratifications.

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