The Marrakesh Treaty and Why It Is Important to Librarians

Marrakesh, Morocco

There’s new proposed national legislation for librarians to monitor and support. On March 15, 2018, the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. The proposed legislation will amend the U.S. Copyright Act 17, U.S.C. § 121, to be in compliance with the Marrakesh Treaty (Library Copyright Alliance).

What Is the Marrakesh Treaty?

The Marrakesh Treaty is a short title for the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.” It is an international copyright treaty approved by member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in June 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco (WIPO Summary).

The main goal of the Marrakesh Treaty is to increase availability of accessible formats of published materials, including books and magazines, to print disabled people across borders. According to the World Health Organization, in October 2017 it was estimated that 253 million people worldwide have a form of vision impairment including those who are blind (World Health Organization).

Under the Marrakesh Treaty, participating countries are required to create “copyright exceptions that allow the making and distribution of accessible format copies [of published materials] such as Braille or audiobooks, including by importation and exportation” to benefit persons with print disabilities (Library Copyright Alliance). The treaty covers persons who are blind, have “a visual impairment or a perceptual or reading disability,” or “are otherwise unable through physical disability to hold or manipulate [turn pages in] a book” (WIPO, Marrakesh Treaty, Article III).

Thus far, thirty-five countries have ratified the treaty, including Canada, Australia, and India; and there is a major push for the U.S. to move from being a signatory to the treaty to ratifying it by amending U.S. copyright law to comply with treaty provisions (WIPO Contracting Parties).

What Are the Benefits of the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act?

The proposed legislation achieves the following:

  • Expands the Chafee Amendment. In 1996 the Chafee Amendment amended the U.S. Copyright Act to create a copyright exception for persons who are blind or print disabled. Section 121 allows authorized entities such as schools and libraries “with a primary mission to serve the blind or others with print disabilities the right to make an accessible copy of a published nondramatic literary work and distribute that copy to a user without authorization” (Russell, 98). The Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act extends Section 121 to include overseas distribution of accessible formats.
  • Benefits print disabled people, not copyright holders. Unlike most recent U.S. copyright-related legislation, this law will benefit persons who have a disability that does not allow them to read standard printed resources (WIPO Summary).
  • Extends global information access. In the U.S., librarians often speak of the freedom to read; however, for those who are blind or otherwise print disabled, obtaining reading materials in an accessible format can be a struggle. Worldwide over 90 percent of published materials are inaccessible to blind or print-disabled people, thereby creating “book deserts.” Currently the copyright laws in many countries do not allow the reproduction and distribution of print materials in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, and audio (World Blind Union). The treaty and this legislation will increase print resources in accessible formats for many.
  • Supports basic human rights. The Marrakesh Treaty and the proposed U.S. legislation embody principles found in Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights [right to seek and receive information] and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 21 [providing information in accessible formats]. The treaty and proposed legislation emphasize the concept that every person has the right to access information in a format that meets his or her personal needs.

Encourage Passage of the Legislation

In a time when it is difficult for members of Congress to come together on legislation, the fact that this proposed law has bipartisan support in the Senate is a plus. It also has many supporters including the U.S. Copyright Office, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the National Federation for the Blind, and American publishers (Malcolm). Naturally, the American Library Association is also pressing for approval.

Add your voice by sending an e-mail to your senators asking them to support the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act. It’s easy to do through the ALA Action Center.


Library Copyright Alliance. “Copyright Alliance Welcomes Introduction of Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act, S.2559. (accessed April 7, 2018).

Malcolm, Jeremy. “Blind Users Celebrate as Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Bill Drops.” March 15, 2018. Electronic Frontier Foundation. (accessed April 6, 2018).

Russell, Carrie. Complete Copyright for K-12 Librarians and Educators. Chicago: American Library Association, 2012.

World Blind Union. “Marrakesh Treaty Ratification and Implementation Campaign.” (accessed April 6, 2018).

World Health Organization. “Vision Impairment and Blindness Fact Sheet.” Updated October 2017. (accessed April 9, 2018).

World Intellectual Property Organization. “Summary of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.” 2013. (accessed April 6, 2018.

World Intellectual Property Organization. “WIPO-Administered Treaties, Contracting Parties, Marrakesh VIP Treaty).” (accessed April 6, 2018.

World Intellectual Property Organization. “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities.” June 17-28, 2013. (accessed April 9, 2018).


Martinello, Matteo. “Marrakesh.” August 8, 2009. Used under Creative Commons Attribution License.




Author: Helen Adams

A former school librarian in Wisconsin, Helen Adams is an online senior lecturer for Antioch University-Seattle in the areas of intellectual freedom, privacy, library ethics, and copyright. A member of the AASL Knowledge Quest Advisory Board, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a KQ blogger, she is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) and contributor to The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, 2017). Email:

Categories: Blog Topics, Intellectual Freedom

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.