In September 2016, we see the first World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaty targeting those who use content, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty or Marrakesh or MVT). Marrakesh becomes effective 30 September 2016. The treaty sets out limitations and exceptions for countries to include in their domestic copyright laws to allow the reproduction, distribution and availability of published works in accessible formats and to permit those works to be exchanged across borders. Like all WIPO treaties, Marrakesh requires ratification by 20 states to take effect. Canada recently adhered to Marrakesh as the 20th country.
International Copyright Law
June 2013 marked a milestone in international copyright law and in the role of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) with the finalization of a new treaty: the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty or Marrakesh or MVT).
One unique element of the Treaty is that it is the first WIPO copyright treaty devoted solely to copyright limitations or exceptions as opposed to rights for creators of copyright-protected works, performers and sound recording producers. Limitations or exceptions limit the exclusive rights of creators and allow consumers to use protected content without permission from creators. More than 600 negotiators from WIPO’s then-186 member countries met in June 2013 to finalize this historical Treaty. (WIPO currently has 188 member states.)
WIPO Copyright Treaties Set Minimum Standards
Similar to all WIPO treaties, the Marrakesh Treaty does not set out the law as it applies to works for the blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. Rather, it sets out minimum standards that Treaty member-countries must adhere to and include in their own domestic copyright laws. The Treaty applies to all literary and artistic works (including text, notation and related illustrations) whether or not the works are published or otherwise made publicly available in any media. It is understood that this includes these works when they are in an audio form; for example, as audiobooks.
Fifty-one countries signed the Marrakesh Treaty; however the Treaty becomes effective only once twenty countries have ratified it. In order to ratify the Treaty, the ratifying country must have in its own copyright legislation the minimum standards that are in the Treaty. Once a country has ratified the Treaty, it is said to be a member of the Treaty.
Current Members of the Marrakesh Treaty.
The first 20 countries to ratify Marrakesh are (in alphabetical order):
United Arab Emirates
National Law Exceptions
Ratifying countries to Mararakesh must have a provision in their copyright statutes that sets out a limitation or exception for accessible format copies. The provision is an exception to the right of reproduction, the right of distribution, and the right of making available to the public to allow for the availability of works in accessible format copies for beneficiary persons. The provision should allow any necessary changes to the work required to make it accessible in the alternative format. Ratifying states may go a step further and extend this provision to the right of public performance.
As is the case with other copyright treaties, any limitations or exceptions provided for in domestic legislation must meet the following test as set out in Article 11 of the Treaty:
“…a Contracting Party may permit the reproduction of works in certain special cases provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author.”
It is up to each Treaty member country to interpret this test for any limitation or exception.