Innovative Policy 2018 on Accessibility

Allowing for copyright exceptions to make books accessible for the blind

Working with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Blind Union (WBU) led a campaign to address what it calls a book famine – that is, the lack of accessible printed materials globally. Joining with like-minded stakeholders, the WBU drafted a treaty that would eventually be submitted to WIPO and become the Marrakesh Treaty in June 2013. The treaty allows for copyright exceptions to facilitate the creation of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works for persons with visual impairments and print disabilities. As of late 2017, 33 countries have ratified the treaty and now allow copyright exceptions and some members are already transferring accessible books across borders, particularly Canada and Australia.

About the policy at a glance
Laws and regulations involved:Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, 27 June 2013
Responsible Body:WBU and World Intellectual Property Organization
of Implementation


  • 33 countries have ratified the Treaty as of late 2017.
  • No country from the European Union as well as China, Russia, and the United States have done so to date.


According to WIPO, less than 10 per cent of printed materials are available in accessible formats in developed countries and less than 1 per cent in developing countries. Current copyright laws in the majority of countries do not allow for the unrestricted reproduction of published materials into accessible formats to benefit blind and print-disabled people, or for cross-border sharing of materials – for example, sharing by large accessible libraries with organizations that may not have the resources or the technology to reproduce accessible materials.


The Marrakesh Treaty (formally “The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled” ) was adopted in 2013 by WIPO, entered into force in 2016, and began to be ratified by countries as of mid-2014. As of late 2017, 33 countries have done so. Once incorporated into national domestic legislation, the treaty ensures an improvement in the availability of texts in an accessible format for visually impaired or print-disabled persons and for their circulation within the internal and international market.

The Marrakesh Treaty places two key innovative limitations on copyright. First, it allows people with print disabilities to make accessible copies of books, or for “authorised entities” to do so on their behalf, without having to seek the agreement of or pay a royalty to the right-holders. Second, it allows authorised entities to supply accessible copies of books across borders.

A picture of the advocacy table.In the 33 countries that have so far ratified (or acceded to) the treaty, print-disabled people have or will soon have access to a significantly higher number of published materials. Several countries have even begun sharing accessible works across borders, including Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Chile. India, Israel, and Mexico also have ratified, but so far, no country from the European Union as well as China, Russia, and the United States have done so.


The campaign is working to implement the treaty in all countries, especially the 173 countries that are party to the UN CRPD. WBU’s Marrakesh Treaty Campaign is funded in large part by the Open Society Foundations (OSF), an international grant-making group supported by the philanthropist George Soros. That funding includes money allocated to regional projects, allowing for the six WBU regions (Asia, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa, North America/Caribbean, and Latin America) to implement their own campaigns. OSF also funded the Guide to the Marrakesh Treaty, published by Oxford University Press and made available in accessible formats and other languages on the WBU website.


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