World Blind Union and Other Advocates Call on WIPO Member States to Implement the Marrakesh Treaty

July 22, 2022

During a panel discussion held at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Blind Union, as well as advocates for people who are print disabled from Lesotho, Mexico and Viet Nam, called on those contracting parties of the Marrakesh Treaty that have not yet implemented its provisions in national law to do so.

The World Blind Union representative, Mr. Scott LaBarre, stated that it is not sufficient for countries to ratify the treaty, it is only if contracting parties transpose its provisions into domestic legislation that people who are print disabled will be able to benefit from the humanitarian objectives of the treaty.

Mr Scott LaBarre
(Photo: WIPO)

Mr. Scott LaBarre

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled requires that countries create exemptions in national copyright law to produce and make available books in accessible formats, such as braille, audio and e-text, as well as to facilitate the cross-border exchange of such accessible format copies. Beneficiaries of the treaty are persons who are blind, have low vision, are dyslexic or have mobility impairments that impact their ability to read the printed word.

The side event on the Marrakesh Treaty and the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) took place on July 19 in the context of the WIPO Assemblies of Member States. The four panelists took stock of the positive impact of the Marrakesh Treaty and ABC, nine years after the Marrakesh Treaty was signed in Morocco. Currently, the treaty has 89 contracting parties covering 115 countries, since the European Union joined as one bloc.

The panelists examined the remaining challenges confronting people who are print disabled and concluded that there is still important work to be done to allow people who are print disabled to benefit fully from the provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty.

Ms. Kelello Fanana
(Photo: Ms. Kelello Fanana)

Ms. Kelello Fanana

Ms. Kelello Fanana of the Lesotho National League of Visually Impaired Persons, explained that although Lesotho had ratified the treaty, it had not yet implemented the relevant provisions into national law. In the context of a technical assistance project funded by WIPO’s ABC to produce educational textbooks in accessible formats she explained that obtaining permissions for the production of these titles was a difficult and time-consuming process that implementation of the treaty in Lesotho would alleviate.

In Viet Nam, Mr. Dang Hoai Phúc, Executive Director of the Sao Mai Vocational and Assistive Technology Center for the Blind, explained that ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty would be an important first step since Viet Nam has not yet joined the treaty.

Mr. Dang Hoai Phúc
(Photo: Sao Mai Vocational and Assistive Technology Center for the Blind)

Mr. Dang Hoai Phúc

He explained that the Sao Mai Center had benefitted from ABC training and technical assistance and that they had been able to produce hundreds of accessible educational titles with funding provided by Australian Funds-in-Trust. Describing current challenges in Viet Nam, Mr. Phúc emphasized the difficulty in making math equations accessible and that the production of accessible math textbooks was greatly needed.

Although Mexico has ratified and fully implemented the provisions of the treaty, Ms. Hilda Laura Vázquez Villanueva, Trainer at Discapacitados Visuales I.A.P., highlighted that people who are print disabled still face financial and technical barriers that can impede the availability of accessible reading materials.

Ms. Hilda Laura Vázquez Villanueva
(Photo: Ms. Hilda Laura Vázquez Villanueva)

Ms. Hilda Laura Vázquez Villanueva

Ms. Vázquez Villanueva stated the importance of providing funding for the production of accessible titles and the need for technical solutions, such as affordable internet bandwidth and reading devices. Ms. Vázquez Villanueva emphasized the importance of training for all stakeholders in the production of accessible formats. She also explained that some accessible format standards used internationally are not compatible with the reading devices widely used in Mexico, which means Mexico is not benefitting from the cross-border exchange of accessible titles from other countries.

Mr. LaBarre elaborated that countries that have seen the greatest benefits from the Marrakesh Treaty have engaged a broad alliance of stakeholders from government, civil society, libraries, publishers, and the private sector, as well as international initiatives, such as WIPO’s ABC. The World Blind Union will push to have countries join and implement the Marrakesh Treaty, but will also promote the goal of a publishing market system in which all books are born accessible.

The concluding remark of the event came from the delegate from Serbia, who commented that the event had opened his eyes to the real life problems of people with print disabilities regarding the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty and that when he returned to his country, he would use this knowledge with respect to the ongoing amendments of the copyright law.

Background

According to a 2017 study published in The Lancet, approximately 253 million people are blind or visually impaired world-wide. Nearly 90% of these are resident in developing countries, where the World Blind Union (WBU) estimates that people who are blind have only a one in ten chance of going to school or getting a job. A lack of accessible books remains a very real barrier to getting an education and leading an independent, productive life.

About ABC

The Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) is a public–private partnership led by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that brings together all of the key players – organizations representing people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled, authors, publishers, collective management organizations, libraries and other authorized entities, as well as standards bodies. ABC was established in June 2014 to implement the goals of the Marrakesh Treaty. Through an effective international alliance of relevant state and non-state actors, ABC seeks to increase, and distribute, the number of books worldwide in accessible formats - such as braille, audio, e-text and large print.

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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 193 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.