The Treaty of Marrakesh

Timeline of IFLA Engagement on the Marrakesh TreatyThe Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled was signed on 27 June 2013, and entered into force on 30 September 2016.

The road to Marrakesh was a long one – the first clear step was back in 1981, with the creation of a joint working group between the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Getting from here to a Treaty, as set out in our timeline, was neither quick nor easy. Libraries, and IFLA members, played a significant role in getting to a successful conclusion at the international level, and now continue to drive for progress nationally.  

What does Marrakesh Do?

The Treaty places two key limitations on copyright. First of all, it allows people with print disabilities to make accessible copies of books, or for ‘authorised entities’ to do so on their behalf, without having to seek the agreement of rightholders (usually publishers), or having to pay royalties. This step seeks to make it easier to increase the overall supply of accessible format books by facilitating the work of those who produce them.

Secondly, it allows authorised entities to supply accessible copies of books across borders. This offers an answer to the ‘book famine’, which sees people with print disabilities, particularly in developing countries, only have access to a tiny percentage of all the books on the market.

The goal was therefore to combat a market failure, created by the under-supply of books in the right format. As such, IFLA has argued that ratifying legislation within Member States should neither perpetuate this problem by increasing the obstacles faced by people with print disabilities or authorised entities, nor reward the rightholders whose inaction led to the initial problem.

The Historic Nature of Marrakesh

The Treaty of Marrakesh is historic in a number of ways. First of all, no other WIPO copyright treaty in the last 40 years has entered into force so quickly. This is testament to the value of what was agreed.

The Treaty also represents a landmark in the history of international law. For the first time, there is a treaty that focuses on giving new mandatory rights to users, rather than to rightholders. In doing so, the Treaty respects the original goal of copyright – to balance the interests of creators and readers in order to promote education and innovation. In the case of Marrakesh, there is also a clear humanitarian objective.

Finally, it is also the first successful outcome of the process launched in the mid-2000s at WIPO, looking at the place of limitations and exceptions to copyright in law. Other topics on the table include libraries, archives and museums, education, and giving access to people with other disabilities. Discussions continue on this theme, with IFLA leading work on libraries.

Where Next?

As of 30 September 2016, the date of the entry into force of the Treaty of Marrakesh, 22 countries had passed the necessary legislation to ratify it. As such, it still only covers a small minority of the potential beneficiaries around the world, and there are only a limited number of exchanges between countries than can take place.

Progress towards universal ratification will not only benefit people with print disabilities in each country that passes laws, but will also increase the overall available supply of accessible format books around the world.

Partner organisation EIFL has already released a guide to Marrakesh for libraries, and the World Blind Union is also very active in promoting implementation around the world. IFLA has produced a short toolkit for library associations in order to help them act against the creation of any new barriers to access to knowledge. But there is much more to do. This page will be updated with further resources and news on this topic.

CLM (Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters), Access to knowledge, Marrakesh Treaty, Visually impaired

Last update: 13 October 2016