Blind and visually impaired people and copyright

Blind, partially sighted and other print disabled people experience widespread social exclusion. This is due to a combination of economic, technological and legal barriers. One cause is the acute shortage of books and other published material in formats that are accessible. Accessible or alternative formats can include larger print size, audio cassette tape, Braille, electronic documents capable of being read by a speech synthesiser.

Libraries for the blind, as well as general libraries serving blind and visually impaired people, play an important role in alleviating the “book famine” experienced by so many visually impaired people, especially in developing countries with scarce resources. Imagine if accessible materials produced in English, Russian or French could be made available to visually impaired people everywhere through their libraries?

In 2005, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) commissioned a study to examine the barriers to the transfer of accessible material for blind and visually impaired people between jurisdictions, to draw authoritative conclusions and to make recommendations on any necessary changes to national laws or international treaties. The study, supported by WIPO Member States Australia, Chile, the European Communities, Jamacia, Kenya, Mexico and New Zealand was published in February 2007. It 

  • examined copyright exceptions for blind and visually impaired people in the national legislation of WIPO member states;
  • analysed the rules and operation of distribution and importation rights;
  • presented multiple case studies from developed and developing countries, identified copyright problems with the production and dissemination of materials in Braille and other accessible formats;
  • analysed alternative ways of addressing identified problems.

EIFL assisted in the identification of national case studies. Case studies from EIFL countries include Lesotho, Lithuania, Malawi and Mozambique. Analysis of exceptions for the benefit of visually impaired people in national copyright laws include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Nigeria, Poland, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.

Read and download the study (234 pages). See eIFL-IP and Lesotho p. 82

WIPO Diplomatic Conference for Persons with Print Disabilities (June 2013)


Learn more about copyright on digital content for blind and visually impaired people:

WIPO Information Meeting on Digital Content for the Visually Impaired, 2003 Listen to and read the presentations, including Library Services for Visually Impaired People
IFLA Libraries for the Blind Section
World Blind Union