Introduction - The miracle of Marrakesh

The road to Marrakesh was a long, winding, and tough one that took 4 years to travel and 26 more to pave. At first, asking WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) member states to work on a treaty on exceptions and limitations was seen as unnatural by most of them. They found it hard to understand why such a treaty was necessary, and they failed to understand that nothing in the proposed text would harm the international copyright regime. In the final stages of the negotiation, some wanted to see the treaty as an «incentive for publishers», while others humorously saw it as a «treaty to protect rights holders against persons with a print disability».

Dan Pescod, at that time, Vice Chair of the «Right to Read» Campaign and Campaigns Manager for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), started one of his many useful briefing notes with a quotation from Mahatma Gandhi – «First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.» When I read this, we were in the «fight you» phase, and it was amazing to see how faithfully all the stages of a winning strategy of nonviolent activism were being reproduced in our own fight for the treaty. Thus, not only at that stage but even minutes before the treaty was adopted in Marrakesh, none of us were sure of winning in the end. It was not until we could hear the sound of the gavel certifying the adoption of the treaty that we could breathe a little more easily.

Having an instrument like the Marrakesh Treaty was nothing but a dream only 5 years ago. A dream that not many believed would come true one day. It is an international, legally binding human rights instrument, but it is just that – an instrument. It cannot be considered the solution to the «book famine» either, but part of the solution. And now it is time for every country that has ratified it or is willing to do so to make this partial solution work. It will take time but it is never too late, and we know a lot about that one of our strengths during the whole process was patience, and it turned out to be our biggest virtue.

The treaty entered into force on 30th September 2016, after the first 20 ratifications were achieved. Up to date, 39 countries around the world have ratified it, and 3 of them are EBU members: Russia, Moldova, and Israel. In 2018, two important and expected ratifications will come: USA and UE on behalf of its 28 member states.

The EU signed the treaty on 30th April 2014 and it took them almost the same time it took WIPO to agree on the two pieces of legislation that will enter into force in October 2018: the Directive (EU) 2017/1564, to be applied among EU member states, and the Regulation (EU) 2017/1563, to regulate the application of the Treaty between EU member states and non-EU countries. Both amend the existing legislative framework in the Union by providing for a mandatory exception to the harmonized rights which they will affect under the Marrakesh Treaty articles.

But no matter whether we are an EU or a non EU member, all 42 EBU members should ratify the treaty, the sooner, the better, always bearing in mind what it is for: to help end the book famine faced by people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. Thirty million people in Europe. With the Treaty of Marrakesh in place, there will be an increase in the number of printed materials, including music scores, being moved from one country to another under a binding legal framework for all, consisting of national copyright exceptions and an international import/export regime for the exchange of accessible works across borders. This will facilitate access to culture, and with it, to education, which, for sure, will enable us to access better jobs, and finally to be included in the global and digital society we are living in today.

As we did during the negotiations in our country to achieve ratification during the implementation process we will have to make sure that all stakeholders understand the provisions of the Treaty and work closely with their national government on an enlightened and full implementation of the Treaty by raising awareness and training government officials on the need for, and the importance of, the Treaty. One of the crucial things within the Treaty is that it contains many safeguards to ensure that rightsholders’ interests are protected. For instance, the organisations that can use the Treaty such as organisations and libraries for blind and partially sighted persons are carefully defined, as well as the formats and the beneficiaries (print disabled people) subject to the Treaty. What is more, it clearly states that the Treaty only allows the making and sending of accessible format books on a not-for-profit basis. No organisation can or will use the Treaty to compete with publishers in the open market. Our wish is to be able to buy all kinds of books at the same time as those who are sighted, instead of waiting for them, when that is possible, to become accessible.

Thus, the beneficiaries of the treaty themselves will implement it, whether they are individuals or organisations of persons with a print disability. It is not a treaty based on suppositions, on a demand that would come as a consequence of the treaty itself.  The need for the solution obtained after years of hard negotiations is real, it does exist, and it existed long before it was put forward.

Many people have been fighting for this Treaty to come true, and now that it does exist it is obvious that we want it to be effectively applied and used, because it makes no sense at all to spend a significant amount of money, time and resources on a treaty that will never be used. Especially when, in order to become effective, all it requires is a good dose of political will – nothing more, all the rest will follow on its own.

EBU considers it essential to raise awareness on this matter, not only because it is a human rights matter, but because it affects 30 million people in Europe, and that is why it must become part of each country´s political agenda. This way, it will help with the implementation on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and moreover, to achieve many of the Sustainable Development Goals contributing directly to make its motto «leaving no one behind» a reality.

In this journey we had many allies to whom I would like to thank on behalf of the EBU, such as the World Blind Union, WIPO, or IFLA at an international level, along with many others at a national level. All together we make an excellent team, willing to change the life of many citizens in Europe and outside Europe. The miracle of Marrakesh is our motto, come and join us!
By Barbara Martín Muñoz, EBU Second Vice President and Leader of the Marrakesh Treaty Campaign for EBU