Australia Signs Treaty giving Blind and Visually Impaired access to Books

In a symbolic moment Australia joined 68 countries as an original signatory of the Marrakesh Treaty. 

Implementation of the treaty will do much to end the ‘book famine’ – a situation where the world’s Blind and Visually Impaired (BVIP) can only access 2-7% of the world’s published content.  The Marrakesh Treaty tackles this drought of works in two ways, by mandating countries have a copyright exception to allow accessible copies to be made if there are none available, and then ensuring that those accessible copies can be shared across borders.

In a press release issued today, the Attorney-General noted:

"Exceptions to copyright law will be applied to ensure that the visually impaired community can access more literature than ever before,"

The Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield, said the treaty will help improve accessibility for people with visual impairment.

"People with disability want to be independent, in charge and in control of their lives—this treaty will help people reach that goal"

Australia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Hamish McCormick signed on June 23, 2014 theMarrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled © WIPO 2014. Photo: Emmanuel Berrod.

Australia played a key part in the negotiation of the treaty, with our NGO representatives and officials dedicating time and resources to securing the successful outcome.  Maryanne Diamond, who was recently awarded an Order of Australia for her work for the BVIP community including her role in securing the outcome at Marrakesh, spoke on behalf of Vision Australia. 

“Access to information is a human right. Information is what we use to make decisions and choices in life. The lack of information in formats people who are blind or have low vision has put them at a huge disadvantage with peers. Ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty comes at no cost to the taxpayer but delivers an important benefit to a large number of Australians.  Having led the World Blind Union delegation at the World Intellectual Property Organisation for five years, and being blind myself, I know what a significant milestone the treaty is.  It is almost 12 months since it was adopted, and by signing today, Australia has taken another step forward for the inclusion of people who are blind or have low vision in society.”

The Marrakesh Treaty was important also because it was the first treaty at WIPO level concentrating of exceptions and limitations, rather than enforcement of rights.  At the upcoming WIPO SCCR28 (the meeting where copyright treaties are discussed) the second such instrument, the proposed treaty for libraries and archives, will be discussed.  This treaty would go a long way to supporting the ability of libraries and archives to preserve cultural heritage and make information accessible.  This important recognition of the balance required in copyright will help the system remain relevant, protecting essential uses and the markets of rightsholders. 

Meanwhile the Marrakesh treaty will come into effect three months after it has been ratified by 20 countries.  To date the treaty has received strong support from stakeholders and all sides of politics in Australia.  We would hope that this bodes well for a speedy ratification of this treaty that means so much for the blind and visually impaired.