Canada’s accession brings Marrakesh Treaty into force

On 30th June 2016, Canada became the twentieth nation to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually impaired or otherwise print disabled, which will bring the Treaty into force in three months time on September 30, 2016. The ratifying countries will now be able to enjoy the benefits enshrined in the treaty that are meant to extend access to literature and information for print disabled persons. The Marrakesh treaty is the latest addition to the body of international copyright treaties currently administered by the WIPO. India was the first country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons who are visually impaired, or print disabled.

In order to make access to reading material a reality for all persons and to adhere to essential goals of equal opportunity and non-discrimination, the Marrakesh Treaty was approved by the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) on June 27, 2013. The treaty allows countries which are party to the treaty to create accessible format copies, and to exchange these copies across borders. This will  guarantee speedier access to books  and lessen the problem of  “book famine” by directing the contracting parties to implement provisions in domestic law permitting reproduction, distribution and making available published works in accessible formats, with certain limitations and exceptions to the rights of copyright holders.

The goal of the Treaty is to facilitate reading for people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. As statistics indicate, currently only some 1-7 percent of the world’s published books ever make it into such accessible formats. This is partly due to access barriers in copyright law and this treaty aims at reducing such barriers. Some of the important articles of the treaty are discussed below.

Article 2 of the treaty is applicable to both literary and artistic works which includes books, periodicals, sheet music and other similar textual works. It does not cover films. The law does not permit the content of the work to be changed.  The law requires the work to be made available easily in any format or technique so that there is feasible and comfortable access to such formats.Article 3 lays down a broad and exhaustive definition of the term ‘beneficial person’.

According to Article 4 of the Treaty, the countries which ratify the treaty should incorporate limitations or exceptions in their respective copyright legislation. There should be a limitation to the right of reproduction, the right of distribution and the right of making available to the public as provided by the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) to facilitate the availability of the work in accessible format copies for the beneficiary persons.As stated earlier, the main intention of the Treaty is to provide for the cross border exchange of copyrighted works in accessible formats.

The treaty tries to bridge the technological gap between the nations and enables easy access to converted works across borders ensuring access, as given in Article 5.Further the provisions from Articles 9 to 14 enshrine the delegation of administrative functions to the International Bureau of the WIPO. With a concerted effort for widespread ratification and implementation, the Treaty will have a huge impact on accessibility for people with print disabilities.  The treaty mandates a crucial legal framework for adoption of national copyright exceptions in countries that lack them. Non-profit organizations and Government Institutions need to take advantage of these provisions to actually deliver accessible books to people with disabilities. The adoption of the Treaty has made a equal and appropriate balance between copyright laws, its exceptions and limitations.

Authored by Ayush Agarwal
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