Marrakesh Treaty comes into force

30th September 2016 | by Sonia Purser

Accessible ebooks come a step closer

With the coming into force of the Marrakesh Treaty on 30 September 2016, accessible format books can now be exchanged across many national borders without the risk of copyright rules being breached. This is a significant moment for anyone in the world of accessible ebooks.

Negotiation of the treaty was necessary because normal intellectual property rules restrict the transfer of texts between countries, unless local copyright laws have been changed to accommodate material intended for the visually impaired.

Until now these restrictions have severely limited the availability of accessible format books to people living in countries with few such texts and which lack the technical capability to generate accessible books in any numbers. This has meant that book rich nations like the UK have not easily been able to transfer material to accessible format poor nations. As a consequence the huge range of educational and leisure reading that could improve the day to day lives and life chances of visually impaired people across the world has been unavailable.

Delays with ratification

Nations such as India and Canada have already ratified the treaty, but the UK and the EU have not so far; much lobbying is underway to try and push treaty ratification up the agenda of the EU. We will let you know if and when the UK and EU take action on this crucial issue. 

Relevance of WIPO

International copyright questions are overseen by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a United Nations body which also leads the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), and has compiled a catalogue of accessible books produced by libraries for the blind in different countries. With the Marrakesh Treaty in force, the ABC catalogue can be used to search for material that can now be lawfully transferred between countries that are party to the treaty. 


This issue is also linked to Digital Rights Management (DRM) since some publishers are concerned about unauthorised copying of digital text in ebook formats. DRM technology may be used to stop or restrict unauthorised redistribution or copying; however, an  unintended consequence may be to compromise accessibility.

We will be reporting further on the treaty and issues of DRM in due course.