Copyright: EU signs the Treaty of Marrakech

Blind and visually impaired people will soon have access to the same books as other people. In late April, the European Union signed in Geneva the Marrakech Treaty, the first international agreement to improve access to published books without the copyright holder’s permission.

The treaty (also known as the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities) was finalized in June 2013 during a Diplomatic Conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization in Morocco. But it took a year for the European Union to sign it. “International law do take forever,” said Mark Richert, director of public policy at the American Foundation for the Blind, in a phone interview.

The treaty is considered an important step toward equal opportunity. Fewer than 5 percent of the books published each year are accessible to visually impaired and blind people, according to the World Blind Union. The reason is copyright laws.

“It is the first time that an international agreement makes the sharing of materials between countries possible,” said Richert.

The treaty allows the countries that sign it to introduce copyright extensions. Authorized entities, such as organizations serving the blind, will be allowed to produce and distribute print and electronic works in a format accessible to the blind and visually impaired without the copyright holder’s permission. The treaty will also provide cross-border transfers of those works.

“It is the first treaty that I am aware of that spells out the rights of readers as opposed to the copyright,” said Richer. “Most of the international intellectual property or copyright treaties are all about protecting the rights of copyright owners.”

To take effect, the treaty has to be ratified by 20 countries. So far, 64 countries have signed it, but no country has ratified it.

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