DRM Impact on Permitted Uses – The Visually Impaired

The visually impaired are provided in the CDPA 1988 with a number of defeces against copyright infringement for the purpose of making “accessible copies” of copyright works.

Particia Akester examined how DRM affects the rights of blind people for accessing these works.

The paper explains that the computer is information access tool of choice for many persons who are blind as they can use text-to-speech synthesizers to read aloud textual content on the computer screen. Similar screen readers also allow the use of “dynamic brail displays” tot further allow another level of accessibility. It is not always possible to resort to non-digital versions of accessible works because of their size. (Brail editions of a book like Harry Potter could be made up of ten large volumes of text).

Most screen readers are external programs installed independetly of eBook reading programs. The paper says that most eBook reading programs try to restrict the access of third party programs to the text to prevent copying and consequently block screen readers as they are considered as a security threat. Most popular computer eBook readers (made by Adobe and Microsoft) have built-in screen reading functionalities – This means the capability to read the screen will not be blocked as a security threat because it is built in the software itself, but it also allows content providers to enable or disable the reading functionality for specific eBooks. Some of these DRM technologies associate TTS features with security, so that in the case of Microsoft DRM technology, if the highest level of security is selected (which is the mostly commonly used option) the TTS features will be disabled. For Adobe’s DRM technology, TSS is not linked with security, but many publishers still sometimes disable the feature “because they are not certain they have the rights to turn it on”.

The Royal National Institute of the Blind, one of the largest organisations serving hte need of hte blind and partially sighted people in the UK, stated that it does NOT receive many complaints from blind people about DRM restricting their access to content. One of the reasons predicted by the RNIB is that “the visually impaired may know, by now, that buying e-books may lead to very frustrating results”. However, RNIB said that in none of its reported cases were the complainants ever able to get a clean copy of an originally DRMed file, even though some complainants did get a refund. In some of the case studies discussed in the paper, the only option available to a visualy impaired to acquire an accessible copy of a work was by obtaining an illegal copy.

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