By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘The Right To Access Books and Knowledge’Our readers are familiar with the United Arab Emirates’ Kalimat Foundation, which since 2016 has worked with children who are visually impaired in its Ara initiative, and also those who are victims of military conflict and displacement.
Another broadly recognized element of the drive for accessible literature for those who live with blindness or other visual impairments is the Marrakesh Treaty—administered by WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization.
What brings them together now is a new decision from the Emirates’ economic ministry’s undersecretary, Abdulla Ahmed Al Saleh, giving the Kalimat Foundation the authorization it needs to begin implementation of the treaty’s key dynamics—the production of accessible formatting of published content for readers who are blind and/or visually impaired, perhaps “print disabled,” both in the UAE and internationally, without copyright infringement.
The new license permits the Kalimat Foundation to upload and download books in EPUB 3 from WIPO’s Accessible Books Consortium Book Service to increase the volume of available titles, with the foundation’s intent being to add Arabic-language books to the service. Through its Ara initiative, the foundation has provided more than 20,000 titles in various formats at 36 locations in six Middle East and North African countries.
The founding chair of the Kalimat Foundation is Bodour Al Qasimi, the president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), who says that the foundation’s recognition as an authorized entity will allow it to take advantage of the exemptions to copyright under the Marrakesh Treaty.
Al Qasimi has thanked the ministry for the trust it’s placing in the Kalimat Foundation to lead the UAEs response to the Marrakesh Treaty, particularly in light of the deeper catalogue of programming and content with which the Ara initiative can serve its young beneficiaries “and uphold their right to access books and knowledge sources.”
The Kalimat Foundation reports that its programs and services have reached as many as 74 locations in 19 countries, comprising as many as 145,500 children.
The Treaty: Now With 91 Nations Onboard
Adopted on June 27, 2013, the treaty, under the administration of WIPO, came into force on September 30, 2016. Canada had become the 20th nation to ratify the treaty in the summer of 2016, establishing its viability in the summer of 2016.
Adopting the tenets of the treaty requires contracting parties to introduce a standardized set of limitations and exceptions to copyright rules to permit reproduction, distribution, and availability of published works in formats designed to be accessible to persons who are challenged in their ability to read in traditional formats. Effectively, the treaty creates a copyright exception, agreed to by each participating nation, that allows the development of content in accessible formats under agreed circumstances without copyright infringement.
It’s estimated by WIPO that less than 10 percent of the world’s published materials are available in formats that are accessible to blind and/or low-vision people.
One of the resources WIPO offers is a timed listing of various nations’ accession to the treaty, which reveals the United Arab Emirates to have been among the very first to accede, in October of 2014. You can use that listing to find out if your own national market is now part of the Marrakesh Treaty.
WIPO’s information indicates that Armenia became the 91st nation to accede to the treaty on May 31, following Malaysia as No. 90 on March 30 and Montenegro as No. 89 on March 7. Clearly, the treaty is on its way to passing the point at which 100 nations are aligned with its stipulations.
By WIPO’s count, at least 635,000 titles exist now in accessible formats, available through the Accessible Books Consortium service, a public-private initiative led by WIPO.
Al Saleh: To ‘Harness the Benefits of Technological Progress’
In announcing the new authorization for the Kalimat Foundation, Al Saleh, the ministry of economics’ undersecretary, is quoted, saying, “The UAE is keen to develop its laws and regulations regarding intellectual property and copyright protection in line with international best practices.
“The federal decree-law No. 38 of 2021 on copyright and neighboring rights empowers differently-abled people with visual impairment to gain access to knowledge and helps them to further their participation in cultural life, boost creativity, and harness the benefits of technological progress in publishing through the country’s accession to the Marrakesh Treaty.”
In some of the documentation of its mission, the Kalimat Foundation’s Ara initiative team writes, “We seek further to build formative networks and partnerships, to allow for the sustained production of content.
“Our cooperative agreement with the Accessible Book Consortium for example, means that we are the first organization in the region to facilitate training and technical workshops for Arab publishers, enabling them to produce books in accessible EPUB3 formats.
“The benefit in this technology includes the likes of read aloud functionality and compatibility with text-to-speech programmes, interactivity with text, built in bookmarks, navigation through tables of content, and flexibility in its use on a variety of electronic devices.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on the Marrakesh Treaty is here, more on the work of WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization, is here, more on the Kalimat Foundation and its Ara initiative is here, more on accessible publishing is here, and more on the United Arab Emirates’ book publishing market is here.
Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s global media partner.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.