30 June 2016

Major Step for Access to Knowledge for Visually Impaired

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Canada's ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty starts the clock ticking towards its entry into force, giving some of the most vulnerable people in the world much wider access to works of science and creativity. This is a major success following years of effort by IFLA at WIPO and around the world.  

Too often, copyright laws are used to limit access to knowledge in a way that harms the public interest. While all groups are affected by this, those with visual impairments are among the ones paying the highest price.

As the World Blind Union has indicated, visually impaired people can only use and enjoy a tiny fraction of published works – one in twenty in Europe, and one in a hundred in developing countries. To a large extent, this is because they, and the institutions that work to support them, are not allowed freely to make and share accessible copies of works they already own, even on a non-commercial basis.

Following years of work, and with strong engagement from representatives of IFLA’s Committee on Copyright and Other Legal Matters and Section for Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities, in 2013 the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) signed the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.

In this, governments committed to creating a new exception to copyright, allowing ‘authorised entities’ (in many cases, libraries) to take works in their collections, reproduce them in a way that makes them accessible, and then make them available to people who otherwise would not be able to use or enjoy them. Moreover, it also becomes possible for authorised entities to send copies of works to counterparts in other countries which have signed the Treaty and passed the relevant domestic legislation to ratify it.

When the Treaty was signed, it was agreed that it would enter into force three months after the twentieth country had ratified it. With Canada’s step, the clock starts ticking towards 30 September, just ahead of WIPO’s General Assembly. Libraries have already been active, both at the political level in pushing governments towards ratification, and in working to improve their own services to the visually impaired. IFLA’s Section on Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities will hold a session at this year’s World Library and Information Congress on Collaborating across borders ‐ making accessible resources available.

The result is a significant and all-too-rare step towards strengthening the rights of users, with all other WIPO treaties tending to favour rights-holders. IFLA continues to work to ensure broader change which both delivers on the human right of access to knowledge while providing fair remuneration to creators.

CLM (Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters), Access to knowledge, Services to the visually impaired, Copyright, WIPO

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