Photo credit: Jim Fruchterman

July 1, 2013 - On June 28, Professor Justin Hughes completed his work as chief negotiator for the United States at the World Intellectual Property Organization's Diplomatic Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco. Delegates from over 150 countries attending the meeting successfully concluded the "Marrakesh Treaty to Improve Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled," the world's first multilateral treaty on intellectual property exceptions and only the second multilateral treaty ever written for people with disabilities. The treaty is intended to improve access to published materials for the visually impaired by requiring copyright exceptions for the blind in national copyright laws and by establishing a framework for countries to exchange "accessible format copies"—copies of books in braille, digital braille, navigable audiobooks, and other formats that serve the blind.

In the United States' closing statement, Hughes said "The United States believes profoundly, in the words of our Supreme Court, that copyright law is 'the engine of free expression,' but we are also committed to policies that ensure everyone has a chance to get the information and education they need and to live independently as full citizens in their communities."

Along with negotiators from Brazil, the European Union, and Mexico, Hughes spearheaded the effort in 2011 and 2012 to develop the "basic proposal" that became the foundation for the treaty.

"Today, only about 60 countries have exceptions in their national copyright laws for the blind—that’s about half the number of jurisdictions that have exceptions for libraries. Over time, the treaty will change that. More importantly, it will allow countries to share the special formats that they prepare for the blind, so that, for example, a digital braille textbook made by a non-profit group in one country can be used by students with print disabilities in other countries," said Hughes.

Historic Treaty Adopted, Boosts Access to Books for Visually Impaired Persons Worldwide