India has become the first country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for the visually impaired. The treaty requires signatories to adopt national law provisions that facilitate the availability of published works in formats like Braille that are accessible to the blind and allow their exchange across borders by organisations working for the visually impaired. The Indian Copyright Act, 1957, did not have any provision for the conversion and distribution of books in accessible formats for such persons. Due to this, organisations serving the blind had to get permission 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 organisations working for the benefit of people with visually impairment can now create audio and Braille version of books without seeking permission of the right holder. It is a major step forward in favour of people who cannot see and have been denied, therefore, till now the right to enjoy access to the works of great writers. Now, a door has been opened for them so that they can “read” the various literary masterpieces by themselves and not be dependent on the bounty of others.
How valuable this gain is for the sightless can be gauged from the observations of celebrated English writer Aldous Huxley, who said the advantage of a book in Braille is that it can be read in bed in winter while keeping it under the quilt so that one’s hands do not become cold. Considering that of the 37 million blind in the world, India has 15 million—making it the home of the largest number of such people—the number of libraries for them is pitifully small. With the advancement of technology, it should be possible to expand and improve the library services so that more “talking books” can serve those who need them.