Philippines joins Marrakesh Treaty benefitting visually impaired
Louella Desiderio (The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has gained greater access to novels, textbooks and other printed materials for more than three million visually impaired Filipinos as it acceded to the Marrakesh Treaty.

In a statement, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) said the Philippines deposited its instrument of accession to the Marrakesh Treaty to World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) director general Francis Gurry last Dec. 18.

The WIPO, an agency of the United Nations, is responsible for administering the Marrakesh Treaty.

Under the treaty adopted in Marrakesh in Morocco on June 27, 2013, contracting parties are required to introduce a set of limitations and exceptions to copyright rules to allow reproduction, distribution as well as availability of published works designed to be accessible to the blind, visually impaired and print disabled persons.

In addition, the treaty requires contract parties to allow exchange of published works across borders by organizations to serve the visually impaired and print disabled persons.

With the Philippines’ accession to the treaty, the country agrees to provide some exceptions and limitations to rules in its national copyright law to allow converting published works in formats which could be accessed by the beneficiaries.

Being part of the Marrakesh Treaty likewise allows the Philippines to export and import copyrighted works in accessible formats to and from other countries that are party to the agreement.

There are currently 47 country-signatories to the Marrakesh Treaty.

The IPOPHL has long been pushing for the country’s accession to the treaty to increase trade in published materials in accessible formats or materials in Braille format or audio books.

“With increased access to textbooks, novels, and other printed materials, the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled persons are given an opportunity to further their education and cultural appreciation. The spirit and intent of the Marrakesh Treaty will not only help reduce the ‘book famine’ experienced by these individuals, but will significantly empower them to seize opportunities that access to information has opened, and pave the way for a more inclusive society,” IPOPHL director general Josephine Santiago said.

Even prior to its accession to the Marrakesh Treaty, the Philippines has already introduced measures in 2013 to allow reproduction or distribution of published articles or materials in a specialized format for the use of the blind and visually impaired through Republic Act 10372 which amended the Intellectual Property (IP) Code of the Philippines.

To further enhance access, the IPOPHL has provided a wider copyright limitation provision in the draft bill submitted to Congress in November to amend the IP Code.

In particular, the provision widens the scope of copyright limitation to cover not just the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled persons, but also those unable through physical disability to hold or manipulate a book, or to focus or move the eyes to the extent normally acceptable for reading.

“This will go a long way to enhance access to information if approved by Congress and the President,” Santiago said.

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