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What Breaking Electronic Locks Means to the Blind

Posted by susabelle at 6:46 AM on July 29, 2010

The Library of Congress, in a regular review of digital copyright laws, made a few adjustments last week.  They declared that jailbreaking a device is perfectly legal, that breaking code on games is okay for certain purposes (to fix bugs, for example), and that blind users have the right to break DRM in order to make electronic text available.

This last thing is a source of much rejoicing and discussion in the disability services community.  This very thing has been a huge roadblock for users of electronic devices, or eBooks of any kind.  Most eBooks, or eTexts, arrive in an inaccessible format such as ePub or PDF.  Most of the time, other software has to be brought in to extract the text from these eBook formats, so that the print impaired can use the text at all.  Having a legal right to do it removes some of the legal cautions that have been raised over the years when eText is manipulated to make it accessible.

Of course, in an ideal world, eText of all kinds would be accessible, but publishers cannot figure out how to do this without giving up their draconian DRM methods.  They are so worried that we will share what we get, putting them out of business.  Which, of course, has been proven to be a non-issue in the music industry (despite the fact that the RIAA still thinks it’s an issue).  And while I don’t mind taking DRM-locked files and making them accessible for my print-disabled students, the fact remains that there should not have to be a middle-man like me doing this.  If a student wants to go online and purchase an eBook to use immediately, just like anyone else, why shouldn’t they be able to?

At least now we know we won’t be sued or arrested for breaking DRM on these files.  That could open up a lot more doors for the disabled in the future, as they will no longer feel like they are breaking the law when they convert a DRM’d file into something they can actually use.

One Comment

  1. From George Kerscher at 4:28 pm on July 31, 2010

    A few points:

    First the EPUB is inherently accessible. Currently Humanware’s Stream, the Dolphin EaseReader, and the GH reader render EPUB content that persons with print disabilities can use effectively.

    True, there are many EPUB readers that use DRM and those reading systems are not accessible. These companies now know that if they want their systems used in education in the USA, they had better figure out how to make their interfaces accessible. We have seen the announcement by Amazon that the Kindle will be available in August and be accessible to the blind. The iPad uses EPUB and VoiceOver presents the books. Blio, not launched yet promises to be accessible.

    Google Book project is using EPUB and a couple of million titles are accessible, although these are out of copyright titles.

    The publishers are delivring EPUB into their outlet channels. Richly formatted textbooks using EPUB is one of the goals of the EPUB revision currently underway.

    We all should be applying pressure on the reading system developers to make their reading interfaces self voicing or work correctly with Assistive Technology.