Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities (popularly known as the Marrakesh VIP Treaty or MVT) was adopted by the member-states of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Marrakesh, Morocco on June 27, 2013. The main objective of the MVT, which came into force on September 30, is to address the problems of the print disabled, referred to as the “global book famine”. http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/marrakesh-treaty-revolution-for-the-print-disabled.html It would be really appropriate to recount the efforts of American musician Stevie Wonder in his arduous fight to bring the MVT into a reality. The long-time supporter of the MVT, Wonder, while addressing the UN delegates, rightly said on July 18, 2016, “Our work will not be over until we remove all barriers to accessibility. I am counting, I am depending, I am trusting in you that this will happen.”
He even called for greater participation of countries in the MVT. He urged more nations to join the “books for blind” treaty so that visually impaired people can come on an equal footing to the rest of the world. Hope his appeal will be given due respect by the nations who are yet to ratify the treaty. It may be noted here that all the UN members must come forward and endorse this historic and one-time effort taken by the WIPO. For India, it was a very special moment as it was the first country to ratify the MVT on June 24, 2014 at the 28the session of the Standing Committee on the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000, in Geneva. The MVT needed the ratification of minimum 20 countries to come into force. It was Canada which became the 20th nation to accede to the MVT and helped in bringing it into action. Since then, nearly 79 nations have signed the treaty so far. Thus, all the signatory nations will witness the effective implementation of the MVT from October. This treaty will eventually herald a new revolution to more than 285 million people who are blind and visually impaired. Ironically, out of millions of books and other printed materials published worldwide, barely 1-7 per cent are readily made available to the huge population of the print disabled. Further, 90 per cent of these people are living across the developing countries in low income settings. Experts say, the MVT is the first copyright treaty of the WIPO which is clearly set on the background of the provisions of human rights espoused by the UN. Indeed, the MVT was truly conceived in line with the human rights principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Thus, this historic treaty is hoped to introduce a plausible solution to numerous challenges in improving books and the rest of the printed materials for people with print disabilities. Now, the pertinent question is who is referred to as the sole beneficiary of the treaty and how they will get their works and finally in what form. It precisely defines a “beneficiary as someone affected by one or more in a range of disabilities that interfere with the effective reading of printed material. This broad definition includes persons who are visually impaired as well as those with a physical disability that prevents them from holding a book”. It extends learning to a new generation of visually impaired which reflects rising global concerns about them. The parameters of “works” include those resources, which the beneficiary would not be able to access, except delivered in an alternative format. Further, “accessible format” refers to a broad format that allows a person to access to the content as easily as possible which includes digital formats as well. Another significant aspect of the MVT is that it recognises both the roles of the Governments and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for making alternative formats of learning available to the print disabled. It permits these organisations to play an important role to assist the beneficiaries which are normally prohibited by the existing international copyright laws. The treaty has given full authority to the national Governments to create range of measures for bringing the authorised entities to the help of the visually impaired. This in a way moves one step ahead in aiding the differently abled in their learning process. Besides, the MVT has no formal relationship with other treaties. Thus, its members can freely carry out their responsibilities under other international instruments and treaties without affecting the provisions of the MVT. However, the contracting parties need to comply with their international obligations as specified in the Berne Convention (1886), the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT 1996) and the World Trade Organisations’ Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS, 1995). Therefore, the treaty is expected to bring more awareness about the value of shared knowledge, particularly among the visually impaired in developing nations. The treaty will bring forth four main benefits. First, it is an instrument which fosters discussion and raises awareness about the need for policies that benefits persons with disabilities. By this, the MVT wants to hammer home the point that policy planning and implementation can be one of the major steps in the direction to address the bottlenecks on the road to realise the goals set in the treaty. Else, the main provisions in the treaty will not be effective in Afro-Asian nations. The centre of the debate is that the wider community of the disabled persons must be encouraged to be part of the whole process of the policies made in this direction. Second, this will benefit one of the neediest sections of our society. Further, it will enhance the chances of expanding the role of education among them. Greater access to education will in turn play a transformatory role in our fast globalised society. The treaty, while stressing the role of the educational institutions, also states that they should have the accessible formats for the print disabled, only then they will be able to deliver the best to them. It is a matter of equal access to education and hence, the institutions must be equipped with all the latest accessible and friendly formats that are required for the disabled population. Third, the MVT is expected to enhance social integration and cultural participation with a new lease of life to the visually impaired in the days to come. And this efforts will play a crucial role in social inclusion and cultural participation of a vast majority of our population. Bringing them to the mainstream of our social network can only be possible when they can avail equal access to all common sources of knowledge and information. Promoting leisure materials like novels, story books, newspapers and magazines will certainly help in playing an important role in the expression and dissemination of local culture. Understandably, this will allow the print-disabled generation to register their invaluable contribution in the development of our culture and civilisation for all the time to come. Finally, the MVT will obviously support the poverty alleviation programmes and further can explore avenues for development of the national economy. Once information is available in accessible forms, the development of individual faculties will definitely be ensured. This will again assist in professional growth of the disabled people and make them self-sufficient. Thus, they can contribute a substantial portion to their local economies. Arming the visually impaired with more knowledge and information will be an added advantage for the rest of the humanity to achieve the unfinished goals of the multi-lateral institutions. To supplement the MVT, the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) was developed by the WIPO as an alliance activity. Its aim is “to increase the number of books worldwide in accessible formats (braille, audio and large print) and to make them available to people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled”. Therefore, the ABC will be another crucial step wherein the actualisation of the MVT can be seen. It also involves advocacy organisations, authors, libraries for the blind, publishers and standard bodies across the globe. Hope, this effort taken by the ABC will make knowledge and information handy for these millions left behind by our global governance systems for ages. Why is it important for India? The Copyright Act of 1957 does not have any specific provisions for facilitating the production and distribution of books for print-disabled people. However, converting books or any other printed materials into Braille is already available in India. But considering the growing number of visually impaired people and the rise of literacy among them, the typical Braille format will not be sufficient for them. As the information and communication technology has taken the world by surprise, there has been an urgent need to re-look at the Copyright Act of 1957. It is observed that the existing act can do no better in creating e-formats and audio books accompanied by speech enabled texts. Even to translate books and other printed materials into braille forms require permission from the original authors and institutions. And this is a cumbersome legal process in a country like India where law takes its own suitable time. But, with the MVT coming into force, the designated organisations that will facilitate the visually impaired may carry forward their works without taking permission from the original copyright owners and bodies. This will make the transfer of knowledge much easier than ever before in India and many other signatories where legal hassles remain a roadblock in sharing information for the disabled. Thus, the MVT can be regarded as a boon for India. The coming of the MVT is not only a matter of legislation. It is a complete package in which seven aspects are coming together — trusted intermediaries, enabling the legal regime, development dimension, concerns of the digital environment, technological tools, interoperability of the standards and finally, information materials and training. This will show a new window of opportunities to the print disabled which were not available under any of the treaties of the WIPO. Way back in 2007, the General Assembly of the WIPO adopted the Development Agenda consisting of 45 recommendations. Interestingly, many of these recommendations highlighted the importance of establishing and maintaining due balance of interests through adequate limitations of and exceptions to intellectual property rights from the viewpoint of economic, social and cultural developmental trajectory around the world. However, this has offered a solid base for preparing the foundations of an instrument on limitations and exceptions for visually impaired people (VIP).Without being in any way complacent, countries like India must take this opportunity to offer maximum facilities to its huge population of VIP. The World Blind Union’s (WBU) top strategic objective of achieving a world accessible to all blind and partially blind persons must be supported by developing nations like India. Nevertheless, this treaty is an innovative effort to engage the VIP world over and this can be the beginning of the end of their plights to access to the world of knowledge and information. Hope they see the light of the day! (The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer) -- Avinash Shahi Doctoral student at Centre for Law and Governance JNU Register at the dedicated AccessIndia list for discussing accessibility of mobile phones / Tabs on: http://mail.accessindia.org.in/mailman/listinfo/mobile.accessindia_accessindia.org.in Search for old postings at: http://firstname.lastname@example.org/ To unsubscribe send a message to accessindia-requ...@accessindia.org.in with the subject unsubscribe. To change your subscription to digest mode or make any other changes, please visit the list home page at http://accessindia.org.in/mailman/listinfo/accessindia_accessindia.org.in Disclaimer: 1. Contents of the mails, factual, or otherwise, reflect the thinking of the person sending the mail and AI in no way relates itself to its veracity; 2. AI cannot be held liable for any commission/omission based on the mails sent through this mailing list..