KEI Closing statement at Marrakesh

KEI Closing statement
Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled
June 27, 2013
Diplomatic Conference in Marrakesh Morocco

This was read by James Love (a video of this available here:

Mr. President. KEI is a non-profit organization that focuses on human rights and the public interest in the governance of knowledge.

In July 2008, Dr. Manon Ress from KEI worked with Mr. Chris Friend of the WBU to convene an expert group to draft a proposed treaty. Since then, we have worked with the WBU, other blind groups, non-blind NGOs, businesses and negotiators from many countries who collectively overcame many political barriers to achieve this result.

The road to Marrakesh has not been easy. It has taken five years. There were some disappointments along the way, such as the decision in 2011 to eliminate deaf persons as beneficiaries, something that Helen Keller would have found appalling, and my mother, who is deaf, would not understand.

A huge coalition of very large businesses launched a last minute effort to block or weaken the treaty.

It is also unfortunate that nearly all negotiations on the text took place either off the record, or in secret. The records of the diplomatic conference will be very limited, with little information about country positions or the rationale for various articles.

That said, with all of these flaws, WIPO is now the most transparent forum for intellectual property norm setting, by far. Most importantly, the public had access to negotiating text, sometimes on a daily or even twice daily basis. As many delegates have already noted, this negotiation shows that when you publish the negotiating texts, you can receive highly informative feedback, and reach an agreement. And, the agreement reached in this manner has more legitimacy.

The text of this treaty provides a strong legal and political basis for copyright exceptions for persons with disabilities. The treaty will vastly expand access to works, particularly among persons sharing a common language, such as English, Spanish, Arabic and French, or persons who read multiple languages, or persons living in other countries with different languages.

My mother-in law became blind late in her life. She lived with our family, in the United States, and there were no accessible books in French. Had this treaty come earlier, she would not have lost her ability to read books in her native language in the last years of her life.

The text addresses the most important barriers to access. While the text is complex in some areas, the treaty is truly user friendly, and not at all onerous as regards those who will use it to expand access for blind persons and other beneficiaries.

This is the first treaty administered by WIPO that focuses on user rights, and the first treaty at WIPO that focuses on the human right ‘to participate in the cultural life of the community.’

The treaty provides for an Article on the Respect for Privacy, the obligation to provide for a legal path to circumvent technical locks on works, the recognition that exceptions must work across borders, and the recognition of the importance of general exceptions and “fair practices, dealings or uses”.

We are pleased that country statements from India mentioned the need to overcome barriers from contracts, and that Indonesia says the agreement provides access to text and other content embedded in audiovisual works.

It is difficult to comprehend why this treaty generated so much opposition from publishers and even from patent holders, or why it took five years to achieve this result. As we celebrate and savor this moment, we should thank all of those who resisted the constant calls to lower expectations and accept an outcome far less important than what was achieved today.

From everyone at KEI, we thank Francis Gurry, Ambassador Trevor Clarke, Michelle Woods and all of the WIPO staff, all of the negotiators, the Open Society Foundation, which supported work on this treaty for five years, David Hammerstein from TACD, who has been unable to attend today’s session, the many blind and non-blind civil society NGOs, and everyone else who worked so hard on this just cause.