The Marrakesh Treaty

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (External link) was adopted on June 27, 2013 in Marrakesh and it forms part of the body of international copyright treaties administered by WIPO. It has a clear humanitarian and social development dimension and its main goal is to create a set of mandatory limitations and exceptions for the benefit of the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled (VIPs). EBU is campaigning for full ratification and implementation at European level.

As well as the Marrakesh Treaty, the "Right to Read" is set out in various texts:

The World Blind Union has published a Guide to the Marrakesh Treaty:

Facilitating Access to Books for Print-Disabled Individuals, intended to help governments of ratifying countries as they face a variety of legal and policy choices when deciding how to incorporate the Marrakesh Treaty into their national legal systems. It is available as a word document in English (External link) , Spanish (External link) French (External link) and Russian (External link) .

EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) Marrakesh Treaty Guide

The EIFL has also published a Guide for Libraries provides an introduction to the Marrakesh Treaty for persons with print disabilities, its key provisions and recommendations for national implementation in order to maximize the opportunities it offers to libraries to increase the reading materials available to persons with print disabilities. This guide is available in English (External link) , French (External link) , Russian (External link) , Serbian, (External link) Lithuanian (External link) and Nepali (External link) .

The WIPO (Marrakesh) treaty campaign blog - the fight to end the book famine !

EU moves toward Marrakesh Treaty Ratification this autumn (28/09/2017)

Under the Estonian Presidency an agreement on the legal framework for EU ratification was reached last Friday, September 22nd by the Council Working Group on Copyright closely following the terms of the European Court opinion that established exclusive EU  to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty.  There is no text available yet but we have been told there are no controversial issues involved nor any reference to the WIPO Marrakesh Assembly.  This agreement has now been sent to be translated which will take 3 weeks and then it needs to be first approved by EU member state ambassadors and afterwards by ministers in the Council. Once the Council has approved it,  the Plenary of the European Parliament will ratify the agreement. 

This process will probably take two or three months. Nevertheless, EU ratification will not  become effective until it  is deposited at the World intellectual Property Organization which will not take place until mid 2018 when it has been implemented into EU member state laws. 

The focus now shifts to EU member states that need to integrate the new EU legislation, Directive and Regulation, into their national copyright laws before September 2018. (External link) Here the key decision that needs to be made is whether or not each individual EU member states will include the optional “compensation right” or “tax on accessible works” for rightsholders and publishers. We hope not!

To date 31 countries have deposited their ratification of the Treaty. Next week in Geneva at WIPO the “Marrakesh Assembly” will take place that monitors the application, extension and impact of the Treaty around the world.


Marrakesh Treaty legislation debated and approved by European Parliament Plenary Session today. Many call on Council to ratify Treaty. (10/07/2017)

European Commission declares that it will closely monitor the transposition of the laws by EU member states to make sure no barriers are created with special reference to the limits and conditions of optionally applying “compensation schemes”. Says Council has no reason to delay ratification.

Plenary Session of the European Parliament, Strasbourg 6-7-17 from 9am to 10 am.

Rapporteur green MEP Max Andersson insisted on why this was very important legislation. He explained the problem of lack of access of visually impaired persons who suffer from “book famine”. He pointed out how these laws meant the EU implementation of Marrakesh Treaty that has been supported by EP as a mandatory and harmonized exception to Copyright. He remarked that the WIPO treaty was already ratified by 30 countries and that it eliminates cross-border barriers to access both inside and outside the EU. This is very important because most visually-impaired persons live in South while most accessible books are in North. This will mean a vast improvement of access to reading material thanks to the sharing books with South.

He said that it was a pity that the publishers lobby has forced Council to drag its feet for years on this issue.

Commisisoner Stylianides on behalf of the European Commission: The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted 4 years ago by WIPO but the EU has been very slow to make progress. This is the first step of the EU digital single market and copyright reform. It creates a harmonized mandatory exception of copyright. It is very important for there to be transparency with regards to compensation schemes which should not be barriers to access when applied by MS.

MEP Helga Stevens, ECR; (speaking with sign language) “This is a small step for humanity but an enormous step for people with disabilities.”

MEP Helga Trupel, Greens: We have taken many years to reach this agreement. Publishers are not threatened by this. I am not against copyright but here is example of a humanitarian action that can change copyright. I call for the treaty to be ratified swiftly.

MEP Dzhambazki ECR: This is a good agreement with the Council. There is now a disagreement in Council on how the Treaty should be ratified.

Rosa Estaras: EPP: This is a big day for people with disabilities. Only 5% of books are in accessible formats and there is a book famine. There must be a balance between creators and general interest. This is the first copyright treaty in world underpinned by human rights law. Awareness has been raised through the debate. Increased access to books will meand that education can help social integration and the fight against poverty.

MEP Margrette Auken, Greens: Thanks to everyone for years of work. There are some possible pitfalls and barriers in these laws. My own Danish Government has protected rightsholders more than blind people. I am afraid that compensation schemes could hurt the access to books by blind people. We must insist that proof needs to be given that there is more than minimal damage to rights holders to allow compensation schemes in EU member states.

MEP Zwiefka EPP: This exception from copyright is very justified. Even I have difficulty reading many texts. We must implement decisions as soon as possible.

MEP Julie Ward: S and D: Marrakesh Treaty is a landmark human rights and fair treaty that was adopted by WIPO in 2013 but the EU has yet to ratify. I call for speedy ratification.

MEP Mastalka. GUE:

The debate has been very long, too long. The poorest countries and the South will have much better access due to this Treaty. Now the Accessibility Act needs to follow.

MEP Isabella Adinolfi: 5 star: Marrakesh Treaty is not a mere treaty but an implementation of fundamental rights. Ratification should be soon. We must insure that there are many more works available and we must recognize that compensation schemes can harm access: economic rights should not be above the human right of access to culture.

MEP Boutonnet. ENF: It is unacceptable that 30 million people in the EU have to deal with book famine. The TIGA project and ABC are trying to deal with it.

I don´t recognise of right of the EU to ratify this Treaty. I am French.

MEP Synodinos: The Marrakesh Treaty will plug gaps as an exception to copyright but we should be very vigilant that a profit motive is not present that will take advantage of this exception.

MEP Radev: EPP. Finally we are providing more books including audiobooks for the visually impaired and we´ll improve their lives.

MEP Woken: EPP: The Marrakesh Treaty is long over-due. It means EU internal and cross border exchange will be legal. A 12 month transposition period of the laws is OK.

MEP Kuneva:(who is blind) GUE : This is about the right to read and and the right to culture Longtime discrimination has been clear. This is a social justice issue. The EU must ratify now.

MEP Libretto: Reading is basic. The EU must be modest. The Marrakesh Treaty is a major step forward but it is thanks to WIPO that we have this victory of solidarity over financial interests.

Other MEPs (names not clear) due to “Catch the Eye” method.

Compensation right should not have been in the agreement because these works already have a very high cost for Blind persons organizations. Member States should not use this option. It is important that dyslexic people have access as well.

MEP Nikemarios S and D: It is all the response to a massive civil society campaign. Many Member States have been dragging their feet on ratification. We must be careful about what lobbies have been planning as barriers such as the compensation right.

MEP Lopes. The texts guarantee access. Tricky at the moment but needs to overcome restrictions that could mean less access. Ratification has been delayed due to a legal problem but 30 million people in EU are awaiting this triumph of the international community for social justice.

A lot more needs to be done. Smart access needs to be facilitated due to UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities commitment by the EU.

Commissioner Stylianidis, European Commission : These laws are related to the Accessibility Act and the Web Accessibility Act. On Ratification: The EU should proceed rapidly and the Commisison proposed it to the Council over 1 and half years ago. The European Court opinion made clear the exclusive EU competence to ratify. There is no reason for further delays on the part of Council. The Commission will support member states in the transposition of these laws and we will monitor correct applicaiton including compensation schemes and their clear limits(only possible if there is more that minimal harm to rightsholders) as established in the principles as established in the legislation to assure they they are legal and they are not barriers for visually impaired persons

MEP Max Andersson: Calls for Council to ratify this quickly. But says it will take more than a year to implement. Thanks the EC for serious and a good approach. Thank you to the Maltese presidency for the compromise with the Council. A special big thanks to the European Blind Union for being an immense asset in all this work over the years.

European Blind Union: Implement this legislation without new barriers and ratify the Marrakesh Treaty with no further delay (05/07/2017)

We are happy that this legislation opens the door for swift EU ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty. Thanks to this legislation cross-border exchange of copyrighted books will be legal without the permission of rights holders for non-profit uses to serve blind and visually-impaired persons.

At the same time we deeply regret that this agreement allows EU member states to impose a “compensatory remuneration” to be paid to rights holders, as we consider this in contradiction with the right-to-read objectives of the Marrakesh Treaty.

Blind people have to deal with books in an inaccessible format; especially, when we look at educational material, where inaccessibility is steadily increasing. Columnized layouts, graphs, pictures, animated balloons and all other means to attract optic attention, until now, cannot be made accessible to blind persons without extensive knowledge, phantasy, and experience. There is no technical tool available to replace these indispensable human resources. It is the non-profit companies with these special services for blind consumers in the respective country that provide these skills.

Article 21 of the UN-CRPD states that accessible information must be made available without additional cost. So any price or fee that amounts to a higher level than the regular price plus an appropriate surcharge with respect to the production of the accessible format will violate article 21 of the UN-CRPD.

If people accept, that basically it should be the publishers who take responsibility for the accessibility of their products, then there is no room for anything but the rgular price they can enforce on the market.

In the transposition of these EU laws into EU member state legislation we shall oppose this unfair application of payment schemes. They are falsely called "compensation schemes" because there is no economic loss to be compensated and governments never have shown any damage done to publishers by accessible formatted works.

The next crucial step is for the European Parliament and the Council to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and to deposit this ratification in Geneva at the World Intellectual Property Organization.  We call upon this to be done with no further delay.

David Hammerstein, Marrakesh Treaty Advocate for EBU, Strasbourg, July 5th,  2017


EBU statement upon the vote in the Legal Affairs Committee on Marrakesh Treaty legislation (29/05/2017)

The European Blind Union thanks the European Parliament for its continuous strong support 

We are happy that there has been a legislative agreement in the EU which opens the door for swift EU ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty. The agreement means that cross-border exchange of copyrighted books will be legal without the permission of rightsholders for non-profit uses to serve blind and visually-impaired persons. This political agreement establishes  in the EU a mandatory exception to copyright for the sharing of books accessible for blind and other visually-impaired persons. 

At the same time we regret that this agreement allows EU member states to impose a “tax on accessible books” or a “compensation right” to be paid to rightsholders as we consider this in contradiction with the right-to-read objectives of the Marrakesh Treaty. We shall oppose this unfair application of payment schemes in the transposition of these EU laws into EU member state legislation. They are falsely called "compensation schemes" because there is no economic loss to be compensated and governments never have shown any substantial damage done to publishers by accessible formatted works. 

The EBU will work hard to make sure the Directive and Regulation approved today means an important movement toward ending the “book famine” that deprives visually-impaired persons  access to the majority of  reading material that is published. This legislation is specially relevant because it is in the EU (along with the USA) where the majority of accessible formats exist in major languages. This legislation along with the Marrakesh Treaty will mean greater access to education, culture and social integration for  millions of visually impaired persons in Europe and around the world. 

The next crucial step is for the European Parliament and the Council to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and to deposit this ratification in Geneva at the World Intellectual Property Organization.  We call upon this to be done with no further delay.

David Hammerstein, Marrakesh Treaty Advocate for EBU


Update on the EU Council's negotiations on the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty by Jessica Schroeder, 09/12/2015

On the 27th of June 2013 more than 280 million blind people in the world could finally celebrate a firm acknowledgement of their right to read by the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), concluding a Treaty on copyright for the visual impaired and print disabled. The “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities” adopted in Marrakesh establishes legal fundamental grounds for access to literature by empowering authorized entities to convert inaccessible commercially available books into formats which are accessible for vision impaired and print disabled users without the obligation to request the permission of its copyright holders. The treaty sets the legal frame for needed modifications in national copyright regimes to implement legal copyright exemptions for WIPO contracting members to enable authorized entities to share their accessible book collections across national borders with other entities and with blind, low vision and print disabled individuals. This is the first intellectual property treaty benefitting the public interest rather than the interests of rights holders, and closed nearly five years of hard negotiations by the WBU with the active support of the EBU team and in collaboration with other NGOs.

Currently, copyright law is a national jurisdiction which has the effect of preventing blind organizations from sharing books with neighboring countries, thus causing considerable unnecessary duplication of production of books in accessible formats. The treaty will considerably increase the availability of accessible books all over the world and support the mitigation of the predominant book famine. Currently only 5% of all published books in the developed countries and less than 1% in the developing countries are ever produced in accessible formats - such as braille, large print and audio – that visually impaired people and print disabled people need for equal reading enjoyment. The Marrakesh Treaty will enter into force three months after its ratification by 20 countries. While a range of countries such as India, Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, Paraguay, Mali and others have already ratified the Marrakesh Treaty, some EU member countries show no urgency in doing so. The Copyright Unit of the European Commission presented a proposal to the Council in October 2014 which authorizes the European Union to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty on behalf of all EU member states. Consequently all EU members would be bound to practically implement the legal specifications of the treaty in their own countries, by accepting the exclusive competence of the EU in establishing the legal prerequisites in EU copyright and the common commercial policy. The EU explained its entitlement to exclusive competence by stating that the provisions of the treaty such as copyright exemptions and cross border exchange fall within the scope of EU law. The EU Society Information Directive establishes a legal frame for the harmonization of EU copyright and the Treaty of the Functioning on the EU lays down the regulations for cross border exchange of goods.

14 months after the Commission had tabled its proposal the Council has still failed to reach an agreement on EU's ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, although the legal services of EU Commission, Council and European Parliament have insisted on the clarity of exclusive EU competence which is supported by ample European Court jurisprudence (External link) .

In May 2015 the European Commission proposed a compromise that would respect the sovereignty of individual EU member states to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty while accepting the principle of EU legal competence. While 21 EU member states have expressed their consent to the proposed compromise, which would allow a swift ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, seven EU member states led by Germany and Italy have rejected the compromise and are forming a blocking minority which stalemates the ongoing ratification negotiations. The German Government is using as an excuse for opposing EU ratification false and discredited claims that this is not exclusive EU competence. If Germany changed its negative position, the “blocking minority” in the Council would probably collapse. This calls for political pressure on a political level in Berlin. To date very few people in the German Government and the Parliament (Bundestag) know anything about Germany´s blocking of the Treaty by using very dubious and totally unsubstantiated arguments: that it is not EU competence, that we need to change German copyright law first and that we need a new EU Directive first. All legal experts have told us the contrary. Very obviously this is a deceitful political ploy that needs to be exposed. Italy is using the same arguments. They would rather like to suspend the ratification negotiations and concentrate on the legislative work in content.

So far the opponents of Marrakesh Treaty ratification under EU exclusive competence have not publicly revealed their opinion nor released any public proposals which would prompt them to accede to EU's treaty ratification. At a plenary debate of the European Parliament numerous MEPs from various political parties have expressed their dismay about the procrastination of the Council's ratification negotiations. Many demanded a concrete time-table for ratification and rejected placing the Marrakesh Treaty ratification and implementation within the general copyright debate currently underway in EU institutions. MEPs like Enrico Gasbarra (S&D, IT), Rosa Estaràs Ferragut (EPP, ES), Max Andersson (Greens/EFA, SE), Julia Reda (Greens/EFA, DE) and Joseph Weidenholzer (S&D, AT) underpinned the delay of ratification as a clear infringement of the right to accessible information, culture and equal participation in education enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They urged Council and Commission to stop squabbling and in-fighting and reach a common solution indicating its consensus to strive for a swift ratification.

In an public event sponsored by tremendous supportive MEPs like Dieter-Lebrecht Koch (EPP, DE), Enrico Gasbarra (S&D, IT), Juan Carlos Girauta Vidal (ALDE, ES), Max Andersson (Greens/EFA, SE) and co-organized by EBU, WBU and TACD and attended by officials from the Copyright Unit, MEPs and commission members Jasmin Battista ( Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip's team) and Anna Herold (Digital Economy and Society, Günther Oettinger's team), affirmed their continuous commitment to achieve timely Marrakesh Treaty ratification. On the initiative of Green's Max Andersson, an information session was conducted to brief MEPs about the need for a prompt ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty.

In the last few weeks both the Legal Affairs Committee and the Petitions Committee have responded positively to the requests of the European Blind Union. Both have decided to send a letter via Martin Schulz, the European Parliament President, to the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council and to Donald Tusk, permanent President of the European Council, (with copy to Member States), requesting immediate ratification of the Treaty.

On 26th of October the Petitions Committee sent a letter to the permanent representative of the current Luxembourgish Presidency to request his opinion on the subject and urge his Presidency to seek for a swift solution in this conflict.

Meanwhile the European Commission has sent a legal consultation to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to determine whether the Marrakesh Treaty should or should not be ratified under EU's exclusive competence. The reason the Commission finally sent the consultation was to prevent a few individual EU member states from ratifying on their own. The ECJ opinion could take between 9 and 18 months, but this does not prevent the Council of EU Ministers from ratifying the Treaty at any time. The European Parliament legal service has submitted to the ECJ its very clear opinion in favor of EU exclusive competence along the same lines as the Commission and the Council legal services have expressed. It is certain that the ECJ will come to the decision confirming exclusive EU competence.

The Council has repeatedly challenged the European Commission to submit a more concrete proposal prescribing the legislative elements in legally implementing the Marrakesh Treaty requirements into EU legislation. It is expected that the European Commission will release such a proposal by mid of December or beginning of January at the latest, which will be likely in the shape of a directive. This directive will be dealt with apart from the revision of the EU copyright. It should be stressed that this is not at all a pre-requisite for ratification and, if it were necessary, could be done after ratification. It is expected that the approval of a “Marrakesh Directive” will not in any way change the opposition of some member states on the competence issue. Nevertheless, EBU, WBU and all involved stakeholders must be vigilant about the content of this proposal to make sure it has the most favorable interpretation of the Treaty.