Tag Archives: Marrakesh Treaty

The Marrakesh Treaty Turns Ten: Lessons Learned in the United States

Kelsey Corlett-Rivera, the International Language Librarian at the U.S.’s National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) at the Library of Congress (LC), has been participating in the practical implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty in the United States since she joined NLS in July 2020. Here she shares some lessons learned as NLS finalized legal implementation, developed new workflows, and began to see positive outcomes from participation in the Marrakesh Treaty.

Legal Implementation Takes Time: The United States was well positioned to join the Marrakesh Treaty, given that a copyright exception for the blind and print disabled had already been signed into law in 1996 and U.S. representatives were involved in negotiations. Even then, NLS, the country’s largest accessible library, was not able to fully participate in cross-border exchanges until nearly seven years after the United States signed the Treaty on October 2, 2013.

To amend U.S. law in accordance with the Treaty, the President signed the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act into law in October 2018. On February 8, 2019, the U.S. deposited the instrument of ratification to the Treaty in Geneva, and the Treaty entered into force in the U.S. in May 2019.

Next, the Library of Congress Technical Corrections Act, which incorporated the terminology of the Treaty into NLS’s authorizing statute and allowed NLS to participate in the cross-border exchange of digital content was signed into law in December 2019. Finally, the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations had to be amended in accordance with the Act, which was accomplished in July 2020. That completed the legal prerequisites, but operational execution is ongoing.

Other countries with no prior copyright exceptions or other legal challenges may expect even longer timelines before full participation in the sharing of accessible content across borders.

Different Countries Have Different Approaches: Since NLS was established in 1931, we have primarily provided human-narrated audiobooks and human-transcribed braille books to eligible patrons. Our formats have evolved over time, going from records to cassettes to digital files that can be downloaded directly, even in the case of braille. This approach mirrors that of quite a few other countries, such as Canada, Australia, and many European countries. But even then, formats can differ. NLS creates digital talking books in accordance with the ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002 Standard, as it offers additional features beyond the older DAISY 2.02 format that many other countries still use. NLS uses .brf files for our digital braille books; other countries use .bra, .brl, or several others. Different choices have been made regarding number of braille lines per page; even the varying paper sizes commonly used in different regions can lead to incompatibilities. Many less-developed countries lack the specialized software and large digital storage capacities needed for human-narrated, fully accessible audiobooks, and therefore prefer text files that are then read using text-to-speech capabilities. These differences mean that in many cases it is not simply a matter of sending files for requested books — conversion work has to be done at some point in the process in order for books obtained from abroad to function in local systems and meet local patron expectations.

Metadata Matters: A great deal of information is gathered about the books that NLS and similar libraries around the world add to our collections. While this includes typical details like title, author, and publisher, accessible books often require additional datapoints. Audiobook duration, the braille code used when the book was originally transcribed, the name of the narrator, and many other pieces of information are necessary for patrons to understand exactly what they are getting when they download a book. Even if a book shared by another country is in English and of interest to patrons in the United States, the descriptive metadata is often in another language. Neither our patrons nor our systems are prepared to decipher words like the Swedish “Talbok” (audiobook) or “Inläst med talsyntes” (synthetic speech). This means that books frequently need to be re-cataloged, which impacts the speed with which we can add new titles.

Central Leadership Is Critical: The Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), a public-private partnership led by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), has developed a central online catalog (Global Book Service) to facilitate the exchange of accessible books through the Marrakesh Treaty. They have worked tirelessly to ensure the platform functions well for both institutional and individual users, and led efforts to standardize metadata and formats to begin addressing some of the challenges faced by NLS and others. Authorized Entities (non-profit groups eligible to participate according to the Treaty) have shared nearly 900,000 books via GBS, over 40 percent of which can be downloaded immediately. NLS has orchestrated direct agreements with entities in several other countries to exchange books, but the books we have shared via GBS have been downloaded by nearly 50 different countries. The overhead required to set up agreements and arrange file-sharing mechanisms with each and every one of them would be impractical at best and impossible at worst. ABC also provides training to developing countries in producing accessible books and advocates for born-accessible publishing, thus working to lessen the global book famine in many different ways.

Marrakesh Has Made a Huge Difference! While countries have faced challenges during legal implementation, and there are many still making their way through the process, the Marrakesh Treaty really has made a huge difference for people who are blind and print disabled around the world. The Treaty is now in force in 118 countries. As mentioned, a huge number of books are now available through the ABC Global Book Service. As of June 2023, NLS has uploaded over 194,000 items to GBS, which have been downloaded more than 5,000 times in 47 countries since 2020. NLS patrons have also benefited, as we have added over 5,500 books in nearly 30 different languages to our collection. A patron in California was delighted to find audiobooks in Persian that had been obtained via Marrakesh after worrying that he might never read in his native language again after losing his sight. Another patron in Minnesota requested a Finnish translation of Tolstoy’s Resurrection, which NLS never would have been able to fulfill without being able to get a copy from Celia, our counterpart in Finland. Stories like this abound, and while many countries continue to work through the beginning stages of implementation, the effort that advocates and lawmakers have put into the Marrakesh Treaty has had, and will continue to have, a major impact.

Library Stat of the Week #47: Countries Implementing the Marrakesh Treaty Overwhelmingly Choose Not to Introduce or Maintain Restrictions on Access Possibilities

This week, the world celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Held on 3 December this has been marked for almost 30 years, and provides an opportunity, as highlighted by the United Nations to ‘promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life’.

Crucial to achieving this is providing access to information. As the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states in its Article 21, governments should look to provide access to information at no extra cost.

The Marrakesh Treaty, agreed in 2013, makes achievement of this easier by removing unnecessary copyright-related barriers to the making and sharing of accessible format works for people with print disabilities. With over 100 countries now having ratified or acceded to the Treaty (or being members of the European Union, which has ratified as a bloc), there are exciting possibilities for libraries to provide more extensive services.

IFLA has been working to maintain the momentum towards not only ratification and accession, but also effective implementation of the Treaty on the ground. This is because for institutions such as libraries to be able to serve potential beneficiaries, they need the certainty that clear national laws can apply.

In this context, IFLA has called strongly on countries not to make use of the possibilities in the Treaty which can oblige libraries having already acquired copies of works to pay more for making accessible format copies, or to carry out a search of the markets before doing so. Both bring additional costs in terms of money and time which necessarily reduce resources available for service provision.

Therefore, in this week’s Library Stat of the Week, we take a look at some of the key statistics around Marrakesh implementation, based on IFLA’s Marrakesh Monitoring Report, which brings together known information from the 107 countries covered by the Treaty.

Graph 1: Have Countries Acted to Implement the Treaty in National Law?

Graph 1 looks at available data on whether countries which have officially ratified or acceded have taken action to implement the Treaty in national law. To our knowledge, over 42% have done so, with a further nearly 3% not needing to, given that international laws apply directly in national law.

However, this leaves a majority which have either yet to act, or where further information is needed. Where no action has been taken – including when there are already laws in place, but these do not cover all of the issues covered under the Treaty – there is a pressing need for reform.

Graph 2: Can Libraries Use Marrakesh Provisions Without Extra Payments?

Graph 2 looks at one of the possibilities in the Treaty to restrict the scope of the new powers, notably the option to oblige libraries and others to make additional payments for making and sharing accessible format works. IFLA has argued against using this, given that it has been the failure of rightholders to make works available in accessible formats that has caused a lack of access for people with print disabilities.

This finds that, fortunately of those countries which have legal provisions in place, over 90% have not made use of the possibility to oblige such payments. This provides a powerful example for those who are still to act.

Graph 3: Can Libraries Use Marrakesh Without Needing to Search the Market?

Graph 3 looks at the other possibility included under the Treaty to limit the application of its provisions by obliging libraries and others to limit their work under the Treaty to works which are not commercially available in accessible formats.

IFLA has argued that such provisions do more harm than good. If an accessible format copy is readily available on the market, libraries will seek to use this because it will be cheaper than making their own. However, obliging a check on commercial availability adds an extra bureaucratic step, and of course creates new liability – how can a library be sure, especially when sharing books across borders, or whether a book really is available or not, in the necessary format?

The graph shows that over three times as many countries which have clear provisions on the subject do not introduce restrictions here as do. Again, this provides a positive example.

It is worth noting, in both of the cases set out above, the Marrakesh Treaty makes clear that if countries wish to apply the restrictions, they need to notify WIPO. In reality, only three countries have done this (Australia, Canada and Japan). Nonetheless, Canada has not yet make use of this possibility. As such, those countries which have applied restrictions without notifying WIPO have arguably done so illegally.

Graph 4: Can People With Other Disabilities Benefit from Marrakesh Provisions?

Graph 4, finally, looks at the extent to which countries have extended the possibilities to support people with print disabilities created under the Marrakesh Treaty to people with other disabilities. Despite claims by some stakeholders, this is a clear possibility for Members States.

The data indicates that, where there is clear information, more countries have indeed used this possibility than have not. This is certainly a positive step, given that the Treaty as it stands does leave out groups such as those experiencing deafness.


Overall, while there is certainly room for frustration at the slow speed of implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty into national law, among those countries that have acted, the majority have done so without introducing restrictions, and using possibilities to benefit wider groups. In doing so, they have stayed faithful to the spirit of the Treaty, as well as of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in general.


Find out more about library data on on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! The data supporting this analysis comes from IFLA’s Marrakesh Monitoring Report. See also IFLA’s Getting Started Guide, focused on implementing the Marrakesh Treaty.

Autonomy, Opportunity, Participation: Libraries and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities has been celebrated on 3 December for the past 27 years. It is a day for reflection, learning and planning action for the future. In 2019, it will focus in particular on ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’.

Key to celebrations for the past 13 years has been the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, bringing key principles of autonomy, equality of opportunity and participation into international law.

With 181 countries having committed to its principles by ratifying or acceding to it, the Convention is a key reference point for anyone involved in promoting the rights of people with disabilities. This goes for libraries too.

This blog looks at a number of key Articles in the Convention. Libraries and library associations may find it useful to be able to refer to these in making the case for the laws and resources they need to provide full services to people with disabilities.


Equality of Opportunity

A first key principle in the Convention is that of equality of opportunity (Article 3(5)). This makes it clear that people with disabilities should be able to use public facilities on the same terms as everyone else (Article 9(1)(a)), but critically, also information and communications services (Article 9(1)(b)). Accessible web content is a crucial part of this, including efforts to develop and deploy technologies – or better still, promote born-accessible content.

A key step, the Convention argues – is identifying and removing obstacles to access. It notes the need for service providers to be responsive to needs, implying a readiness to take additional steps if necessary to give people access, including of course to information.

IFLA’s Section on Libraries Services to Persons with Special Needs, as well as the Section on Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities carry out valuable work to help the wider library field see where there are challenges and take (responsive) action. Standards and guidelines – as required by Article 9(2)(a) – are just one part of the support offered.



A second principle is the need to ensure individual autonomy, including the freedom to take decisions (Article 3(1)). Information plays a crucial part in this, as it does for the autonomy of any individual – without it, opportunities risk being missed, and choices are based on guesswork.

In particular, Article 21, which mirrors Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stresses that people with disabilities have the right to ‘seek, impart and receive information’, alongside freedom of expression. Crucially, Article 21(a) focuses on accessible format materials, underlining that these should be available at no additional costs.

Libraries are working around the world to provide accessible content, and have been at the forefront of advocacy around the Marrakesh Treaty, which seeks to remove unnecessary copyright barriers to making and sharing accessible format copies (a point also included in Article 30(3)).

On a specific level, the need for information about specific tools and services for people with disabilities (Article 4(1)(h)), as well as broader public awareness campaigns (Article 8(2)) are areas where libraries can help. There is also a right to equal access to vocational training and lifelong learning (Article 25(5)), where libraries can play a key role in connecting people to opportunities to learn.



Thirdly, there is the goal of full and effective participation and inclusion in society (Article 3(3)), including the right to participate in cultural life (Article 30(1)). This covers not just the possibility to enjoy the same cultural offer as others, but also to be creative and to share. Similarly, the provisions on education underline that the goal for young people with disabilities should be to help them grow into full members of the community (Article 25(3))

A key point – arguably – of the Convention in general is that those with and without disabilities should not be kept apart, but rather be and feel part of the same group. It is an argument for ensuring that people with disabilities have access to the same public, rather than having to rely on separate ones, with libraries are specifically mentioned in this context in Article 30(1)(c)).

Initiatives such as the Human Library programme, featured in our SDG Story about the Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, show the potential of libraries to provide shared spaces that include people with disabilities, and create a sense of community.


The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities sets out a number of key principles which can be useful for libraries and library associations when advocating for support for services to people with disabilities. It also contains a number of key reminders for libraries themselves about how they can do the best possible for all users.

We look forward to working, through all relevant IFLA sections, to ensure that the mission of libraries to provide access to information for all can be realised.

Access as the Goal: Celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day

For all the focus in much of IFLA’s work on the importance of agreeing and implementing the Marrakesh Treaty, we should not forget the end goal of this effort – ensuring the accessibility of books, websites, and other materials for people with disabilities.

This is the goal set out by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in its Article 21:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others […], including by:

 a) Providing information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost;


 c) Urging private entities that provide services to the general public, including through the Internet, to provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities;

 d) Encouraging the mass media, including providers of information through the Internet, to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities; […]

 Libraries have a major role to play in achieving this – this blog sets out three ways.


Supporting Accessible Formats

Libraries in many countries have taken a leading role in producing (or commissioning) accessible format copies of books.

They have invested in the equipment necessary to create books in braille, to convert them into DAISY format, or have paid to create tactile books, which are particularly important for younger people with disabilities.

This work is of course supported by the Marrakesh Treaty, which removes at least a key legal barrier to carrying out these sorts of conversions.

Nonetheless, and as was highlighted at a recent hearing the New Zealand Parliament, such conversions are not cheap.

This is why libraries, for example in Australia, have looked to work with publishers to promote born-accessible books. This can mean that a book is immediately usable on a DAISY reader for example. The International Publishers Association, for example, has also promoted accessibility among its members.

Where there is readiness to adopt such formats, this offers a powerful means of expanding accessibility, but of course we remain a long way from success. The role of libraries in creating accessible books – and the need for support in doing this – is far from over.


Promoting Broader Accessibility

Under the law in many countries, libraries have an explicit mission to serve all members of their communities, especially those with disabilities.

Partly, they do this through providing accessible formats, as highlighted above. Depending on the set-up within countries, there can be many libraries offering such formats, or a central one which simply distributes them.

But all libraries have a role on the ground, in ensuring that members of their communities who do have disabilities are able to make use of the services they offer.

A survey in autumn 2017 underlined that many libraries make conscious efforts to develop policies, although even in those without formal plans, staff were active in adapting their offer. Particular areas of focus included physical accessibility and providing tailored services and internet connection opportunities.

Work in this area goes beyond print disabilities, with support for people with dyslexia, deafness and other mobility challenges also taken into account.


Marrakesh and Beyond

As highlighted above, the Marrakesh Treaty may not be a silver bullet, but it is an indispensable step towards accessibility. It removes a key barrier to providing accessible format books, linked to a market failure created by the copyright regime.

Of course, Marrakesh itself only focuses on people with print disabilities, but makes it clear that it is possible to extend provisions to other disabilities also. This is an important point to underline, given claims by some to the contrary. A large number of countries are already taking this step.

Yet ratifying Marrakesh will also mean little if there is no effort to update national laws and practices to match. IFLA, working with the World Blind Union, the University of Toronto, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries and EIFL, has produced its Getting Started guide to help more libraries make a reality of the new rules.


This work will need to continue, both at the political level (in terms of encouraging further ratifications), and on the ground. Legal reform, new practices (in both industry and libraries) and the right support from government will all be necessary to ensure that the commitment in Article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is met.

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.