WIPO – Ensuring Intellectual Property for the Visually Impaired

Intellectual property just took a huge step towards equality throughout the world. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and its Member States formally adopted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled on June 27, 2013. A statistic from the World Blind Union reveals that currently fewer than five percent of the one million books published in a year are available in formats for the visually impaired.

The WIPO is a United Nations agency whose mission is to promote development and use of intellectual property and its international system around the world. Established in 1970, WIPO has more than 180 member states, which works out to over ninety percent of the world’s countries. The Organization works to achieve its mission by establishing and integrating rules and best practices for intellectual property protection between its Member States. They do this through holding various assemblies, committees, and working groups.

The Marrakesh meeting was a Diplomatic Conference held solely to finalize and conclude the new Treaty. Held from June 17th through June 28th, over 600 negotiators from all the Member States met during the week. Representatives from the United States included delegates from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, U.S. Copyright Office, U.S. Department of State, Office of the U.S Trade Representative, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S Department of Education, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The new treaty’s main accomplishments include requirements to enact national laws permitting “reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats through limitations and exceptions to the rights of copyright rightholders.” It also lays out a framework for exchange of works across borders to provide access to people who are visually impaired, blind, and print disabled while  assuring both publishers and authors that their works will not be misused or wrongly distributed.

The need for such a treaty became glaringly obvious after a 2006 WIPO survey found that less than sixty countries make provisions to provide the over 314 million blind and visually impaired persons around the world access to texts in Braille, large print, or in audio. The Marrakesh Treaty will go into effect once twenty Member States have voted to ratify it and abide by its provisions.

The final ratification and implementation of this treaty throughout the world should be interesting to watch over the coming months and years. Access to published works for the visually impaired is a necessity in today’s world to ensure the success and livelihood of those living with this disability around the world.

Search Widerman Malek

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