Facilitating Access to Copyright Works for People Who Are Visually Impaired

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is working with its member states and partners to promote access to works protected by copyright for people who are blind, print disabled or otherwise visually impaired.

The challenges

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2013 that some 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired: 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision. More than 90 percent are resident in low-income developing countries.

This issue has an important development dimension. Blind and other visually impaired people in such countries face significant social and economic constraints that reduce educational opportunities, lower employment prospects and restrict social lives. A severe shortage of books, newspapers, magazines, sheet music and information materials in accessible formats aggravates this inequitable situation.

At present, a combination of social, economic, technological and legal factors impedes access to published works for people who are visually impaired, while the sighted public enjoys unprecedented ease of access thanks to the distributive power of the Internet. Among the limiting factors is the way that copyright systems currently operate.

The Marrakesh VIP Treaty

In November 2008 the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), the main WIPO body responsible for progressive development of international law in copyright and related rights, began discussing exceptions and limitations to international copyright law with a view to boosting access to copyright works for visually impaired people. These negotiations by WIPO's member states resulted in June 2013 in the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (the Marrakesh VIP Treaty).

Partnering with stakeholders to develop practical measures

In parallel, WIPO invited major stakeholders representing the interests both of rights holders and of persons who are visually impaired to participate in a Stakeholders’ Platform to work on practical measures to facilitate global access to works in audio, braille and large print.

The Stakeholders’ Platform includes WIPO and the following international umbrella organizations, among others:

What we are doing

We are working to support the objectives of the Marrakesh VIP Treaty through the following practical initiatives:

  • Capacity building - Action is required at many levels in developing and least developed countries to help produce school books in national languages in accessible formats.
  • TIGAR - The TIGAR (Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources) database at WIPO contains over 224,000 titles in accessible formats in various languages, making this a unique global repository of accessible materials with the potential to help end the book famine.
  • Inclusive publishing - The Inclusive Publishing Project (formerly the Enabling Technologies Framework Project) promotes technologies which enable publishers to deliver digital publications for mainstream audiences that are also fully accessible to persons who are visually impaired, so that everyone can gain access to newly released titles at the same time.

The stakeholders report regularly on their activities to the SCCR.