In Geneva: WIPO’s Marrakesh Treaty’s 10th Anniversary

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

In a program hailing the Marrakesh Treaty’s implementation in 119 nations so far, WIPO cheers the accord’s first decade.

Daren Tang, director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization, speaks on July 12 on the 10th anniversary of the Marrakesh Treaty. Image: WIPO

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

See also: The Netherlands’ Elsevier Gains Benetech’s Global Accessibility Certification

Tang: ‘To Serve People in Need’
Today (July 12) at its headquarters in Geneva, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has marked the 10th anniversary of its Marrakesh Treaty.

Publishing Perspectives readers are very aware of the Marrakesh Treaty and its special coming-together of diplomatic rigor and world book publishing’s best efforts to facilitate access to published works for people who are “blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled” by creating a universal copyright exception that will allow authorized parties to “travel” accessible formats to appropriate consumers.

Strongly endorsed by the International Publishers Association (IPA, also based in Geneva), the Marrakesh Treaty–along with the public-private partnership called the Accessible Books Consortium led by WIPO–has created a framework in which national accession to the treaty becomes the signal both to industry and to cultural leadership.

Its message is that making content available to all citizens in all nations and all markets is not only right and critical but also endorsed by international policy.

And in making his opening remarks for the anniversary observance in Switzerland this morning, WIPO director general Daren Tang spoke in a very compelling way that his colleagues had made three telling observations around the treaty and its place and effects in the world:

Before the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty, there were “five years of intense negotiations involving member states, civil society, various stakeholder groups, and the publishing industry.”Daren Tang, WIPO

“First,” Tang said, “the Marrakesh Treaty is not just about law but most importantly is about opportunity. Opportunity for school kids with visual impairments or disabilities to study at the same pace as their peers. Opportunity for people in this community to pursue careers and interests otherwise closed off to them. And opportunities for the global community to support one another through the cross-border exchange and movement of accessible formats.

“Second,” he said, “the Marrakesh Treaty is WIPO’s fastest-growing, and well on its way to becoming a global treaty. The Marrakesh community now boasts 93 contracting parties covering 119 countries with our most recent assertions from Ukraine, Barbados, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.

“In my meetings with member states, the Marrakesh Treaty is often top in the priority of instruments being readied for accession.

“And third,” Tang said, “the Marrakesh Treaty has been a pioneer in partnering with NGOs [non-governmental organizations] on the ground, post-accession.”

Tang: ‘The Power of Multilateralism in Action’

Speakers in Geneva at the World Intellectual Property Organization, on July 12, the 10th anniversary of the Marrakesh Treaty. Image: WIPO

Tang called this treaty “the start of a journey, not the end.”

Its ultimate goal, he said, “is to get accessible books into the hands of the estimated 150 million people around the world who need them. Delivering this is the work of WIPO’s Accessible Book Consortium, which in turn depends very much on local partners.” Originally, he said, the consortium had 11 “authorized entities” engaged and 225,000 accessible titles, none of them available for cross-border exchange. Today, he said, after nine years of the consortium’s efforts, there are 130 authorized entities, more than half of them in developing countries, and more than 840,000 accessible titles.

“Together these diverse parties agreed to walk and build a common bridge to serve people in need.”Daren Tang, WIPO

Noting that he also wanted to speak to the “spirit” of the Marrakesh accord, Tang said, “Ten years ago, we saw in Marrakesh the power of multilateralism in action when agreement was reached, delegates grabbed each other in jubilation, smiles were broad and wide, and Stevie Wonder sang for all of us” at the treaty’s diplomatic conference.

“Behind this, stood five years of intense negotiations involving member states, civil society, various stakeholder groups, and the publishing industry. Together these diverse parties agreed to walk and build a common bridge to serve people in need.

“Let me conclude by saying that this spirit is as important and as precious today as it was 10 years ago.

“Marrakesh is a powerful reminder of how our work ‘in here’ delivers for communities ‘out there.’ We must take inspiration from this, not just as we continue to translate the treaty into impact, but also as we progress WIPO’s wider work including the two diplomatic conferences next year.”

Setzer: ‘It Was Absolutely Necessary’

Publishing Perspectives readers also are familiar with  Hugo Setzer, president of the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (CANIEM) and a former president of the International Publishers Association. Setzer was on-hand today as one of the Marrakesh anniversary observance speakers. He said:

“A few years ago, when I was vice-president of the International Publishers Association, I was attending a conference about Marrakesh in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I was on my way from the airport to the hotel, riding a taxi together with two other speakers at the conference. Sitting in the same car, I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. They were glad about Marrakesh, but were concerned about publishers, who they considered acted as a hurdle for the treaty. Of course, they didn’t know who I was.

Hugo Setzer

“It is exactly that perception that we’ve been trying to change. It’s true that publishers don’t like exceptions and limitations to copyright in general, because they can have devastating effects. But in this case, it was absolutely necessary for there to be a treaty, as a human right of the visually impaired to have access to knowledge and literature.

“IPA president YS Chi was very clear at the Marrakesh conference when he took the floor and said, ‘Every single book we publish should be accessible for all.’

“We still have a long way to go. While the International Publishers Association has supported the treaty since its adoption and a vast majority of publishers all over the world are convinced and working on accessible publishing, there are some who still need to be convinced. We are committed to keep working on this.

“There is a Buddhist proverb that says that, ‘If you are facing in the right direction, all you have to do is keep on walking.’

“The Marrakesh Treaty is a fundamental landmark that has put us in the right direction. Let us continue to walk towards a more equitable and accessible world.”

You can check to see if your nation has ratified and put into force the Marrakesh Treaty on this database at WIPO.

Delegates to the 2013 diplomatic conference for the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Marrakesh Treaty, applauding the accord’s adoption. Image: WIPO

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Marrakesh Treaty is here, more on accessibility in reading and publishing is here, more on the World Intellectual Property Organization is here, and more on the Accessible Book Consortium (ABC) Charter for Accessible Publishing is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.