Visually impaired people have a reason to celebrate as last month a treaty signed in Marrakesh in Morocco was adopted to ease their access to published works.
The governing body of this treaty is WIPO which oversees international intellectual property issues. Kenya is a contracting party to WIPO and has the option of ratifying the provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty into national law.
The treaty recognises some of the challenges faced by visually impaired people in accessing literary or artistic works that comprise copyright.
Under the United Nations (UN) Conventions of Human Rights and UN Conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities some of the principles set out include non-discrimination, equality of persons, accessibility of information, participation and inclusion of persons.
It recognises that some of the challenges faced by visually impaired persons include limit to their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and the freedom to seek, receive and impart information on an equal basis with others.
The treaty also recognises that they have a right to access all forms of desired information and should enjoy the right to education and an opportunity to do research. Works which are literary and artistic are seldom accessed by visually impaired persons unless they are converted into a form they can use.
This treaty will therefore, cover works such as publishings, books, magazines, newspapers and other works that fall under the literary category.
What the treaty states is that the rights of visually impaired persons must be enhanced at international level for very few countries have provided legislation to ensure that such works are available in a format accessible to visually impaired persons.
There is also a shortage of such works in a form accessible to visually impaired persons. This has limited their right to education and other fundamental rights as set out in general principles of human rights.
Therefore, the Marrakesh Treaty seeks to equalise opportunities for all persons when it comes to literary works notwithstanding their state.
Under general copyright laws, nobody can reproduce, sell or publish any other person’s literary works without permission from the owner. However, in some cases such as use in lectures or citing a person’s literary works in research work is allowed.
What the treaty urges member states to do is to limit the rights of the authors in recognition of the right of the visually impaired persons to access the information.
If ratified in Kenya, this provision will have an impact on authors, the education sector, the publishing sector and will affect several institutions.
Mputhia is an Advocate with Muthoga Gaturu. [email protected] www.mgadvocates.com