Time to Stop Blocking Copyright Exceptions for People with Disabilities

The Marrakesh Treaty has proved to be the most successful piece of international law overseen by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) at the moment. Having entered into force faster than any other copyright treaty in the last forty years, it continues to see a regular flow of countries signing up to implement it.

It is true that the Marrakesh Treaty focuses on people with print disabilities – those who are affected by blindness or other visual impairments, or other disabilities that mean that cannot use a standard format book.

However, one of the key forces behind the Marrakesh Treaty is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whose Article 21 underlines the importance of access to information for all people with disabilities.

Crucially, the Convention does not discriminate according to types of disability. And while a country signing up to Marrakesh is only obliged to give new rights to people with print disabilities, there no legal reason not to extend this to people with other disabilities.

Indeed, thanks to the Convention there is a strong case for doing so, and taking unilateral action to facilitate the supply of materials in formats suited to people with any disability.

Many countries are already doing this. According to IFLA’s own monitoring work, at least 17 countries which have ratified or acceded to Marrrakesh have extended provisions to works adapted for people with other disabilities.

Furthermore, an exhaustive study of relevant provisions in existing laws, presented at the last meeting of WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, shows that over half of countries have introduced some form of copyright exception going beyond Marrakesh in terms of disabilities or works covered. 13 have taken the step of unilaterally allowing imports and or exports.

Article 12(2) of the Marrakesh Treaty itself clearly stresses that the Treaty is without prejudice to other limitations and exceptions to copyright for people with disabilities under national law. Article 12(1) allows Member States to pass more generous exceptions for beneficiaries as well.

This is not to say that a formal extension of the Marrakesh Treaty to people with other disabilities would not be helpful. It would offer a far clearer basis for libraries working to serve all relevant users to do so. Even if a country allows for the export of accessible works, such an export is only possible if importing such works is legal in the receiving country.

It is therefore highly disappointing to see claims in South Africa and Thailand that it is illegal or inadvisable to take steps to support access by people with disabilities other than print disabilities.

Such arguments not only have no basis, but also end up delaying access for people with print disabilities too. They discriminate between people with different types of disability, which makes little legal or moral sense.

It is to be hoped efforts to delay or block progress in this way come to an end, in order to give as many people with disabilities the access to information they need, as soon as possible.

3 Responses to “Time to Stop Blocking Copyright Exceptions for People with Disabilities”


  • Robert Martinengo

    Thank you for the link. An international ‘3 steps/fair use’ provision would make it simpler to provide an alternate format for any person with a disability, but that’s not what the treaty does, so I guess you’ll have to keep advocating.
    But the real problem with the treaty is that there is no accountability, and I don’t mean for publishers. The U.S. has had an exception since 1996 but our ‘authorized entities’ completely failed to meet the needs of students with disabilities, despite having copyright removed as a barrier. No matter how many times I have brought this up, no one has disputed that claim. How will the treaty be different?

  • Robert Martinengo

    I think the success of the treaty is how many people with disabilities it actually helps, not how widely or quickly it is adopted. It’s much too soon to know how effective it will be,
    Also what are these ‘other disabilities’ you refer to? Can you give some examples of people that need an accessible format but are not covered by the treaty?

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