Ten years after the gavel came down, member states and key stakeholders came together during the WIPO General Assembly to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the landmark Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, WIPO’s fastest growing treaty.
WIPO Director General Daren Tang said the Marrakesh Treaty is not just a legal text but “also about opportunity. Opportunity for schoolchildren with visual impairments or disabilities to study at the same pace as their peers. Opportunity for people in this community to pursue careers otherwise closed off to them. And opportunities for the global community to support one another through the cross-border exchange and movement of accessible format works.”
Mr. Tang said the Treaty is “well on its way to becoming a global Treaty.” He also noted that the Marrakesh Treaty “has been our pioneer in partnering with NGOs to create impact on the ground.”
The Director General spoke of how new technologies can expand the reach and quicken the pace of the work of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC). He referred to an agreement recently concluded with Tata Consultancy Services in India around a new software solution that will be deployed to ABC’s partners in developing and least developed countries. This software will assist in increasing the number of accessible books to persons who are blind or otherwise print disabled.
Speaking at the ceremony, Ms. Martine Abel-Williamson, World Blind Union (WBU) President, recalled the WBU’s pivotal role in advocating for the Treaty and ongoing efforts to ensure its full implementation. Referring to a gap between ratification and implementation in some member states, she called on the international community to redouble our efforts and work collaboratively to bridge this implementation gap, ensuring that the Marrakesh Treaty’s transformative potential becomes a reality for all.
After her experience as a blind child growing up in South Africa with little access to textbooks, Ms. Praveena Sukhraj-Ely, Principal Officer and Treasurer, International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment, saw the adoption of the Treaty as “a watershed moment in the journey to access, inclusion, and participation for persons with visual and print disabilities.” She urged the disability community to continue to advocate for the Treaty’s ratification and implementation.
Blind due to a land mine explosion when he was nine, Mr. Dang Hoai Phúc, Executive Director, Sao Mai Vocational and Assistive Technology Center for the Blind, and a musician, shared his joy that his country had recently ratified and implemented the provisions of the Treaty that will now facilitate cross-border exchange of accessible books and braille music scores through ABC.
Mr. Hugo Setzer, CEO, Manual Moderno and Past President, International Publishers Association (IPA), said the IPA has supported the treaty since its adoption and a vast array of publishers all over the world support the Treaty’s goals and are working on accessible publishing. He said everyone should be committed to continue working in this direction. In underlining this, he cited a Buddhist proverb: “if you are facing in the right direction, all you have to do is keep on walking.”
Children’s book author Tony Bradman, speaking on behalf of the International Authors Forum (IAF), lauded the Treaty’s great achievements to this point and urged all stakeholders to continue their support, noting “we should recognize that such agreements bring one thing above all, and that is hope for the future.”
The Treaty, which has 93 contracting parties covering 119 countries, 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 the rights of copyright holders.
It also provides for the exchange of these accessible format works across borders by organizations that serve people who are blind, or otherwise print disabled. It harmonizes limitations and exceptions so that these organizations can operate across borders. This sharing of works in accessible formats increases the overall number of works available, eliminating duplication and increasing efficiency. Instead of five countries producing accessible versions of the same work, each of the five countries is able to produce an accessible version of a different work, which can then be shared with each of the other countries.