Visually impaired people in India will soon have easier access to books in audio and braille formats after India became the first country in the world to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty.

The main goal of Marrakesh Treaty is to create a set of mandatory limitations and exceptions for the benefit of the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disabled (VIPs). It addresses the issue of book famine by permitting reproduction and distribution of published works in accessible formats such as Braille and audio books to VIPs.

The Indian Copyright Act 1957 did not have any provision for the conversion and distribution of books in accessible formats for print impaired persons. Due to this, organisations serving visually impaired people had to get permissions from copyright holders to undertake conversions. However, many publishers did not give anyone the rights to have their books converted.

With the ratification of this treaty, entities such as educational institutions, libraries and other such institutions working for the benefit of people with visually impairments can now create audio and braille version of books without seeking permission of the right holder. 

It is also worth noting that Indian organisations could not borrow such material from libraries in other countries earlier, since there was no such provision for this in the Copyright Act. This has also been addressed in the treaty. It facilitates importing of accessible format copies by entities such as educational institutions, libraries and other such institutions working for the benefit of people with visually impairments. Ability to import without consulting copyright holder is important as it avoids duplication of effort on a book.

This will also facilitate translation of imported accessible format copies and export of accessible format copies in Indian languages. The Indian Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012 is in harmony with the Marrakesh Treaty as some of the exceptions needs for the ratification of this treaty was added in it.

These organizations can also distribute this work they have created to other organizations working on this cause.

The catch

It is not clear if India has added the commercial availability clause. According to this clause only books for which audio or braille versions are not available commercially can be created or imported. If such a clause exists it can complicate the matter slightly, as publishers can make these versions available at a substantially higher price and thus defeating the purpose.

The other thing we need to notice is that the ratification of this treaty will not translate into availability of audio books to all Indians. The treaty has a clause that assures authors and publishers that that system will not expose their published works to misuse or distribution to anyone other than the intended beneficiaries. This means that if an audio version of a book is created specifically for visually impaired people, it cannot be used by people without disabilities. These versions may or may not be sold to public at large, depending on the whims and fancies of the publisher.

People without visual impairments will still need to use a third-party software that can read out the content of an ebook. It is worth noting that some apps such as Google Play Books and Apple’s iBooks will read ebooks aloud, if certain accessibility options are enabled in smartphones and tablets.