WIPO Treaty Adopted to Facilitate Access for the Blind, Visually Impaired, and Print Disabled
Issue No. 510 - June 28, 2013

Marrakesh, Morocco: On June 27, 2013, Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) formally adopted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. The Treaty, which marks the culmination of years of multilateral discussions and negotiations, addresses both the domestic and cross border exchange of printed materials in accessible formats. It will come into force upon ratification by 20 eligible parties.

Maria A. Pallante, U.S. Register of Copyrights, called the Treaty “a fitting accomplishment for the twenty-first century,” and noted the commitment of those who saw it through. “A wide variety of stakeholders have provided input and many governments have worked long and hard to reach consensus on an appropriate legal framework,” she said. “In doing so, they have recognized the compelling interests of visually impaired persons throughout the world in reading works of authorship, as well as the significant investments of authors and publishers in producing those works in the first place—my congratulations to WIPO and its Member States.”

The United States has long been a leader in the area of providing books, textbooks, newspapers, and other materials to the blind, through the services of several trusted organizations that operate under section 121 of the Copyright Act, including the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress, founded by Congress in 1931.

Over the years, both the U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have worked with a range of stakeholders to understand the business and legal challenges of producing and distributing accessible formats. In 2009, the Copyright Office and the USPTO requested public comments on many of the topics addressed in this Treaty (see http://www.copyright.gov/fedreg/2009/74fr52507.pdf). In 2010, the Copyright Office, joined by WIPO, hosted a week-long international forum in Washington to discuss copyright issues related to the needs of the blind and visually impaired (see http://www.copyright.gov/docs/ici/final-program-3-22-10.pdf).

More than 600 negotiators from WIPO’s 186 Member States worked to finalize the Treaty’s language and agreed statements during the Diplomatic Conference that began on June 18 in Marrakesh, Morocco. WIPO’s Director General, Mr. Francis Gurry, noted at the beginning of the two-week negotiations: “Negotiators have the task of, on the one hand, designing a workable system that will ensure that accessible formats can be produced and exchanged across borders around the world in a simple and easy manner and, on the other hand, providing assurances to authors and publishers that that system will not expose their assets to misuse in parallel markets that are not intended to serve the visually impaired and the print disabled.” The Diplomatic Conference concluded today with a celebratory concert featuring songwriter and recording artist Stevie Wonder.  

The U.S. government delegation was led by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and included legal experts from the U.S. Copyright Office, the U.S. Department of State, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Text of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled: http://www.wipo.int/meetings/en/doc_details.jsp?doc_id=241683

White House statement: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/06/28/landmark-treaty-visually-impaired

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office press statement: http://www.uspto.gov/news/pr/2013/13-21.jsp

U.S. State Department press statement: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/06/211308.htm

WIPO press statement: http://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2013/article_0017.html