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India First to Ratify the Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind; 79 Total Signatories to the Treaty

Last Updated on July 3, 2014, 10:05 pm ET

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled now has seventy-nine signatories. This treaty, also known as the “Marrakesh Treaty” or “Treaty for the Blind” was a significant achievement as the first WIPO treaty dedicated to limitations and exceptions, focusing on the rights of users rather than increasing the rights of rightholders. Significantly, India became the first country to ratify the treaty on June 24, 2014 (deposit with WIPO on June 30, 2014).

The treaty sets forth minimum standards for limitations and exceptions designed to facilitate access to accessible format works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. It would also permit cross-border sharing of these accessible format works, allowing countries to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts in the creation of accessible format works and also facilitate the importation of works in other languages. For example, a popular title would not have to be created in accessible format work in the United States, then again in Canada, then again in the United Kingdom, then again in Australia, and so forth. It could be created in one English speaking country then shared for the benefit of persons who are visually impaired in other English speaking countries. Persons in the United States could also benefit from this treaty through the importation of accessible format works in languages other than English, either to benefit those residing in the United States whose native language is not English, or to benefit those who are learning a foreign language. Tiflolibros in Argentina, for example, has a large library of Spanish language accessible format works that could be shared with beneficiaries in the United States if the treaty entered into force. More detailed information about the treaty is available in the “Users Guide to the Marrakesh Treaty.”

There was a recent flurry of signing activity due to Article 17 of the Marrakesh Treaty, which closed the treaty to signing one year after adoption of the treaty; June 27, 2014 was the last date for a country to sign. Signing the treaty signals that a country agrees with the treaty and essentially constitutes an endorsement of the instrument. While it does not create binding legal obligations to adhere to the requirements of the treaty, it does oblige the signatory from undermining the treaty’s objectives. Countries that have signed still need to ratify the treaty in order to be bound by it, and twenty ratifications are required before the Marrakesh Treaty will enter into force. Although the treaty is now closed to new signatures, other countries may join the treaty through a one-step process acceding to the treaty (rather than the two-step process of signing then ratifying).

A round of applause should be given to India for being the first (and currently only) country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, though it is expected that Kenya will soon follow. India’s swift ratification, within one year after the treaty’s adoption, is a record for any WIPO treaty and signals the importance of the objectives of the treaty.

In addition to the excellent news of the first ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, there have also been nineteen new signatories over the last two months, twelve of which occurred over the last week. Notably, the EU signed the Marrakesh Treaty on April 30, 2014, and a number of EU member countries followed suit. The new signatories include: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, India, Iran, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Poland, South Korea and Slovenia. The United States signed last year on October 2, 2013.

The treaty initially opened for signature at the adoption and signing ceremony of the diplomatic conference on June 28, 2013. Fifty-one countries signed at the adoption and signing ceremony, a record number of signatories on opening day for any WIPO treaty. The full list of the seventy-nine signatories is available here. While this large number of signatories demonstrates the overwhelming support for the Marrakesh Treaty and is a reason for celebration, at least twenty of these signatories must take the next step and sign the treaty so that it may enter into force.

With India depositing its instrument of ratification, only nineteen more are needed. The United States, which already has robust limitations and exceptions to benefit persons who are visually impaired, should demonstrate leadership in this area and be one of the first twenty ratifications.