The news that a ‘Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs) and Persons with Print Disability’ had been signed in Marrakesh on 27 June 2013 was welcomed by DALRO.  

 Over time, DALRO has participated in various initiatives to improve access for visually impaired persons, including the Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources (TIGAR) project, a collaboration of WIPO, the WBU, IFLA, the DAISY Consortium, the IPA and IFRRO.  

Locally, DALRO has played a pivotal role in increasing access for visually impaired persons through its interaction with PASA, the Library for the Blind and South African publishers, to create a trusted environment for exchange of publishers’ electronic files.

DALRO had obviously followed the debates and developments which led to the signing of the new WIPO treaty very closely.  The fact that the treaty ultimately came to pass bears testimony to the fact that, no matter on which side of the copyright divide the representatives of the various interest groups are positioned, on certain matters of grave importance consensus is possible.    

DALRO remains deeply committed to the protection of authors’ and publishers’ copyright and is obviously apprehensive of exceptions which won’t pass muster under the three-step test.  However, DALRO is also not insensitive to the special needs of certain user communities and, when it comes to the visually impaired community, few needs are more special.

 Although imposing a copyright exception on members of the Berne Union, the Marrakesh treaty is appropriately light in touch and sensitive to the rights of creators.  It strikes an admirable balance between rightsholder interests and user needs for which the drafters ought to be commended.

The most important, and perhaps most controversial, feature of the treaty is the obligation on countries to allow the cross-border export of works in accessible (to VIPs) formats, provided that export of accessible format copies or re-export of such copies received from abroad is only permissible under exceptions from exclusive rights recognised under the WIPO Copyright Treaty or meeting an equivalent standard under the new Marrakesh treaty.   Any cross-border exchange or domestic use must take place through authorised entities which will have to meet certain accountability and transparency requirements.  The work may also not be altered or used outside of the envisaged scope, aimed at protecting the integrity of the copyright-protected work. 

Of key importance to us in South Africa is the treaty’s recognition of the statistic that the majority of blind or visually impaired persons who do not have adequate access to published works are from developing or least developed countries. Those beneficiaries in our own country can only benefit from a significant development such as this.