Historic new treaty to help the visually impaired

Joint media release:

  • The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Management, Special Minister of State, Minister for the Public Service and Integrity
  • Senator the Hon Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • The Hon Amanda Rishworth MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water

28 June 2013

The Australian Government welcomes the adoption in Marrakesh of a new international treaty to facilitate access to published works by visually impaired people.  

“This is a landmark copyright treaty, the first of its kind in the history of the multilateral copyright system, and I am very proud of the role Australia has played,” Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC said.

“Australia has been a leading voice in the negotiations, working hard to find a balance between rights-holders and the visually impaired, between developed and developing countries.”

Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the new treaty struck the right balance for all stakeholders.

“This is a good outcome for the visually impaired and for rights-holders. I congratulate World Intellectual Property Organization and its Australian Director-General, Francis Gurry, on the successful conclusion of negotiations,” Senator Carr said.

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled, negotiated through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), will allow countries which sign up to make exceptions from copyright laws to enable the creation of accessible format copies – for example, with large print, braille or talking books – of written material.

It will also allow the transfer of these accessible format copies across borders.

Hundreds of millions of blind, visually impaired and print-disabled people around the world are limited in accessing books because of different copyright systems in different countries.  A vast majority of these people live in developing countries.

This treaty will address this “book famine”, where it is estimated less than 5 per cent of the world’s published works are made into accessible formats.

The treaty contains safeguards for rights-holders, including the application of a domestic commercial availability test, so the exceptions would only operate where an accessible format copy isn’t available to buy.

“A commercial availability test protects the interests of authors and publishers and promotes the development of new markets for accessible formats,” Mr Dreyfus said.

Australia already has specific exceptions in the Copyright Act 1968 which allow institutions to assist or make accessible format copies for the benefit of a person with a disability.

“Australia is one of less than 60 countries that already has such provisions but we will need to look at a specific exception for importing and exporting accessible format copies when we formally consider the treaty,” Mr Dreyfus said

The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, Amanda Rishworth, said the Australian Government is committed to creating an inclusive society for all Australians.

“We believe people with disability should have the same opportunities as other Australians, to participate in work, community and social activities, to achieve their best in life, and to develop skills and gain experience,” Ms Rishworth said.

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