The Marrakesh Treaty: Frequently asked questions

An Act to amend the Copyright Act (access to copyrighted works or other subject-matter for persons with perceptual disabilities) and the Marrakesh Treaty

How will acceding to the Marrakesh Treaty benefit Canadians?

According to Statistics Canada, there are over 800,000 Canadians living with blindness or partial sight and around 3 million Canadians living with a print disability, which means that they have an impairment related to comprehension (e.g. autism) or the inability to hold or manipulate a book (e.g. Parkinson's disease). However, only 5 to 7 percent of books are made accessible in formats such as Braille, audio and large print—and often only in developed countries.

Joining the Marrakesh Treaty will help those with print disabilities to participate more fully in the workforce and will support initiatives such as the Centre for Equitable Library Access.

Here is how Canadians will benefit from Canada's accession to the Marrakesh Treaty:

Students with vision loss

Approximately 4 in 10 people with vision loss have an educational degree higher than a high school diploma. In a Statistics Canada survey, approximately 35 percent of persons with vision loss indicated that they discontinued their formal education as a result of their condition. Having access to more accessible printed materials will reduce the challenges students with a print disability face in continuing their formal education.

Workers with vision loss

The ability to read and access information is a critical element for Canadians in preparing for and participating in the job market. One third of those with vision loss are not in the labour force, while 7 percent are unemployed. Even when they are employed, workers with vision loss report challenges in advancing in their careers or in changing jobs. Access to more accessible printed works will help these Canadians look for work, secure job advancement and participate in certain areas of the workforce.

Seniors with vision loss

Individuals 75 years and older have the highest rates of vision loss among Canadians. For these seniors, the ability to read accessible materials is an important factor in maintaining their quality of life.

Members of language minorities with vision loss

The Marrakesh Treaty provides for the cross-border exchange of accessible works. This means that more accessible books in a wide range of languages that reflect the diversity of Canadian culture will be available once the Treaty comes into force.

Schools, libraries and charitable organizations that help people with print disabilities

Organizations that support people with print disabilities, such as CNIB, will avoid duplication in the production of accessible works by being able to exchange titles with their international counterparts. This will allow these organizations to use their limited resources more efficiently to better support their clientele. CNIB estimates that the cost of creating an accessible-format version of a book ranges from $1,500 to $5,000.

Who supports the Marrakesh Treaty?

Numerous stakeholders have written to the government in support of the Treaty, including the Canadian Association of Research Libraries; the Canadian Association of University Teachers; the Canadian Council of the Blind; the Canadian Federation of the Blind; the Canadian Library Association; the Canadian Urban Libraries Council; CNIB; and the Copyright Consortium of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

What is the Marrakesh Treaty?

The Marrakesh Treaty is an international treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that was adopted in Marrakesh, Morocco, in June 2013.

It aims to facilitate access to published works for persons with print disabilities by providing the material in formats that they can easily use. The Treaty establishes international norms that require countries to provide exceptions in their national laws to facilitate the availability of works in accessible formats, such as Braille and audiobooks, for persons who are blind, visually impaired or print-disabled.

Why is Canada acceding to the Marrakesh Treaty now? Why not wait until the five-year parliamentary review of the Copyright Act in 2017?

Government policy on copyright exceptions for people with perceptual disabilities already aligns with the objective of the Treaty. Given this, there is no reason that Canadians with disabilities should have to wait for more access to books that will enable them to better participate in the economy and society. Making the targeted changes to ensure our laws meet the obligations of the Treaty will put Canada in a leadership position internationally.

How does Bill C-11 change the Copyright Act?

Before Canada could accede to the Marrakesh Treaty, the government of Canada had to amend the Copyright Act to bring the exceptions in the Act for people with print disabilities in line with the obligations of the Treaty. Amendments made to the Act include the following:

  • Permit the making of large-print books—Provisions for large-print books are now the same as those that deal with people with perceptual disabilities.
  • Reduce the restrictions on exporting accessible materials—Authors will be allowed to send accessible-format copies of their work, regardless of their nationality, facilitating the cross-border exchange of works in accessible formats with supporting organizations in other countries. Under the former framework, only a Canadian author's work or the work of an author who is a citizen of the destination country may be exported
  • Safeguards to protect the commercial market for materials in accessible formats—This ensures that publishers who choose to make their books available in accessible formats can sell them in the marketplace, while not imposing unreasonable burdens on non-profit organizations acting for the benefit of persons with print disabilities.

When will the Treaty come into force?

The Marrakesh Treaty will come into force three months after 20 countries have ratified or acceded to it. As of June 23, 2016, 17 countries have ratified or acceded to the Treaty: Argentina, Australia, Chile, Brazil, El Salvador, India, Israel, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, North Korea, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

What are the next steps for Canada?

The Minister of Foreign Affairs will seek an order in council (OiC) for authority to accede to the Treaty. Following publication of that OiC, the Minister will deposit an instrument of accession with WIPO.

For Canada, the timing of the coming into force of the Treaty will depend on the number of ratifications or accessions that have taken place prior to Canada's accession. If Canada is one of the first 20 countries, the Treaty would enter into force three months after these 20 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification or accession. If Canada accedes to the Treaty after the first 20 countries, the Treaty will enter into force for Canada three months after Canada deposits its instrument of accession with WIPO.

What else is the Government of Canada doing for Canadians with disabilities?

For the first time in its history, Canada has a minister responsible specifically for people with disabilities. The Minister has been given a mandate to ensure greater accessibility and opportunities for Canadians with disabilities. The Minister has also been given the mandate to lead an engagement process with provinces, territories, municipalities and stakeholders that will lead to the creation of a Canadians with Disabilities Act.

The government also invests annually to help address the needs of Canadians with disabilities through programs such as the Enabling Accessibility Fund, the Registered Disability Savings Plan, the Disability component of the Social Development Partnerships Program, Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit, the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities and Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities.

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