Securing the right to read for the visually impaired

Timothy Vollmer

braille-soon-coming-to-visual-libraries-projectBraille soon coming to Visual Libraries Project by Claire Sambrook, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Today the Marrakesh Treaty—the international agreement to improve access to copyrighted works for the blind and visually impaired—goes into effect.

The treaty has been discussed at the World Intellectual Property Organization since 2008 and was signed in Marrakesh in June 2013.  It was finally ratified by the required 20 states , and today, three months later, it goes into effect.

Countries that have ratified the treaty must provide for a domestic copyright exception law that allows for the creation of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works for visually impaired persons. In addition, the treaty permits the import and export of accessible versions of copyrighted works.

According to the World Blind Union, only 1-7% of the world’s books are ever made available in versions accessible to the visually impaired. Copyright law has contributed to this problem because the default rules typically prohibit such adaptations.

The implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty is a vital step to improve access to books and other copyrighted material for those who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. These protections are long overdue; the right to read should be guaranteed for everyone.