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Proposed UN treaty seeks to end ‘book famine’ among visually impaired

November 19, 2013

A United Nations agency charged with promoting and protecting intellectual property proposed an international treaty to improve access to published works for the visually impaired.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) approved “The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled” during a June special meeting.

Described by proponents as “historic,” the treaty is intended to facilitate the publication of both fiction and nonfiction works in large-print editions or other specialized media designed specifically for those with impaired vision.

If ratified, the treaty would represent an important step in helping visually impaired individuals maximize the use of their available vision, according to the AOA Vision Rehabilitation Section (VRS).

“With the population of the developed world rapidly aging and much of the non-industrialized world still without adequate access to even rudimentary vision care – let alone vision rehabilitation or vision assistive devices – the proposed treaty could improve the quality of life for literally millions of people around the world,” said Maria Richman, O.D., AOA VRS chair.

The proposed treaty would standardize copyright laws around the world to allow the reproduction of large-print or other special media editions of published works for the visually impaired and their distribution across international boundaries, while still ensuring the rights of authors.

Lack of uniformity in current copyright laws effectively means a large-print edition of a book can be sold or distributed only in the nation in which it is produced, according to the WIPO. This has resulted in a “book famine” among the visually impaired.

Only about 5 percent of published works are now available in large print or other media for the visually impaired.

To take effect, the treaty must be ratified by the governments of at least 20 nations. At deadline, the WIPO had not responded to questions from AOA News regarding timelines for the formal ratification of the treaty by the nations participating in the conference.

For additional information, visit http://tinyurl.com/Largeprinttreaty.

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