Law to improve visually-impaired people’s access to copyright works comes into force in New Zealand

Article  \  17 Jan 2020

In 2016 we reported that New Zealand’s Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) was reviewing whether to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty. The Marrakesh Treaty is an international legal framework that aims to make books and other literary works more accessible to persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled. 

Fast-forward to October 2019 and the New Zealand Government voted to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty, with the Copyright (Marrakesh Treaty Implementation) Amendment Act (the Amendment Act) coming into force early in the New Year on 4 January 2020.

What changes does this bring in?

The Amendment Act empowers certain ‘authorised entities’ to create, reproduce, import and export accessible format copies of copyright works (such as Braille and audio recorded copies of printed works) in limited circumstances.

The following bodies can apply to be ‘authorised entities’ under the Amendment Act:

  • Educational establishments
  • Educational resource suppliers
  • Prescribed library within the meaning given under the Copyright Act
  • Charitable entities with a purpose consistent with making accessible format copies available to persons who have a print disability

For entities that fall within the scope of the Amendment Act, it’s imperative that before beginning activities under the act, they give notice to MBIE of their intention to do so.

Organisations that wish to act as authorised entities should send their notifications by email to

According to MBIE, once an organisation is recognised as an authorised entity, they are able to use the ABC Global Book Service (formerly TIGAR). This service is an online catalogue that allows organisations serving people who are print-disabled, or participating libraries for the blind, to easily obtain the accessible content they need.

Powers of authorised entities

The Amendment Act empowers authorised entities to carry out the following actions in relation to copyright works:

  • Make and distribute an accessible format copy without seeking the permission of the copyright owner
  • Import into New Zealand an accessible format copy from an authorised entity in another Marrakesh Treaty country
  • Export from New Zealand an accessible format copy to an authorised entity, or a person who has a print disability, in another Marrakesh Treaty country
  • Reproduce copies of accessible format copies of works made or imported into New Zealand under the Amendment Act
  • Provide, by communication or otherwise, accessible format copies made or imported under the Amendment Act.

Limitations on powers of authorised entities

When carrying out the above powers, authorised entities must:

  • take all reasonable steps to notify the owner of the copyright in the work of its intention to make, import, or otherwise deal with an accessible format copy
  • make the copy to provide it only to persons who have a print disability, persons acting on their behalf, or other authorised entities
  • ensure that the copy respects the integrity of the original work, as far as is reasonably possible and taking into account changes needed to make the work accessible in the alternative format
  • before beginning any of the above activities for the first time, give notice to MBIE that it intends to do so.

Exceptions for persons who are not an authorised entity

In addition to authorised entities, a person with a print disability or who is acting on behalf of someone who has a print disability may make or import an accessible format copy of a work if that person intends the accessible format copy to be used only by a person who has a print disability and acts in accordance with the Amendment Act.

What is the effect for New Zealand?

Prior to the Amendment Act, our copyright laws did allow for certain bodies prescribed under the Copyright Act to make adaptations of literary or dramatic works in Braille or otherwise modified for people with print disabilities on more or less the same terms as the Amendment Act.

However, the most significant change brought by the Amendment Act is the provisions allowing accessible format copies of works to be imported and exported between New Zealand and other Marrakesh Treaty countries.

Prior to the Marrakesh Treaty, the area of most resistance for obtaining accessible format copies of copyright works in New Zealand was importing accessible format copies from overseas due to international copyright restrictions.

The Amendment Act also expands the class of entities who can deal with accessible format copies of works under the Act. Prior to the Marrakesh Treaty, only a very limited group of specific entities could make or obtain accessible format copies of copyright works – and there were no exceptions for non-authorised entities.

These changes will no doubt be a welcome change to both those who experience visual impairment issues and the organisations that aim to assist them.

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