By Adriana Benedict
The recent signing of the Marrakesh Treaty to Improve Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled is a watershed event in the global movement for access to knowledge and culture according to international human rights standards. The Marrakesh Treaty, as the first users’ rights treaty, is a welcome retreat from the so-called “global IP ratchet.” Over the past quarter century, international copyright standards have grown increasingly broad, stringent and inflexible, shrinking individual countries’ abilities to experiment with standards tailored to their unique political economies. This upward ratchet has been driven by multilateral agreements like the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), as well as various free trade and bilateral investment agreements that contain “TRIPS-plus” provisions. The Marrakesh Treaty provides the first multilaterally agreed upon exception to these agreements’ prohibitions against unauthorized, royalty-free reproduction, modification, distribution and importation of creative works. Especially for print-disabled individuals in developing countries where Braille and other accessible formats are largely out of reach, the treaty is a decisive victory for civil society stakeholders despite publishing and entertainment industry representatives who have lobbied long and hard against any agreement that would scale back the rigidity of copyright laws.
States Parties to the treaty agree to implement exceptions and limitations to copyright laws that will facilitate the creation and cross-border sharing of accessible works for persons whose visual, learning or physical impairments prevent them from enjoying equal access to information and cultural works. Importantly, as noted in the preamble, the new treaty aims to facilitate greater opportunities to benefit from and contribute to research.