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”.
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

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

 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

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