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A long-awaited international treaty linked to copyright law which is expected to boost hundreds of millions of blind or visually impaired people's access to books was signed in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh on Friday.
After more than a week of intense debate, the 800 delegates from the World Intellectual Property Organisation's (WIPO) 186 member countries reached a compromise on facilitating the transcription of published works in special formats such as Braille and their cross-border exchange.
WIPO director general Franci Gurry said the treaty, the culmination of years of negotiations, "makes universal for the first time an exception" in favour of the blind and visually impaired.
International law, as stipulated in the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, currently requires that permission be obtained from authors, and royalties paid, for copyrighted works.
"It is a historic treaty that will lead to real benefits for the visually impaired," Gurry said.
There are an estimated 314 million visually impaired people worldwide, 90 percent of whom live in developing countries.
But only five percent of the million-odd books published each year appear in formats accessible to them.
"The basic problem is that there are not enough books, due to an insufficient market... (but also) the tangle of national regulations," which makes international exchange of special format books very difficult, Gurry said.
"It's the system of exchange created by the treaty that will make the difference. A blind person in Senegal or Morocco could directly request copies from an association in France for example."
Adopted unanimously on Thursday, the Marrakesh treaty was signed on Friday morning in the presence of soul music legend Stevie Wonder, who had promised to perform in the event of an accord being reached.
Gurry described the outcome of the negotiations as "a pleasant surprise."
"It was tough especially because of the indirect interests of the publishers, in the world of cinema and music, who feared a breach of copyright law to the detriment of the author," he said.
Morocco's Communications Minister Mustapha Khalfi said of the treaty that there were "no winners and no losers, this is a treaty for everyone."