DMCA Discriminates Against Visually Impaired, Say Advocates

It seems that in the quest to protect e-books from the evils of piracy, a small group of readers are left out in the cold - the visually impaired. Advocates and copyright experts alike are seeking an exemption from parts of the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act, allowing them to circumvent the copyright protection in e-books to convert the text to speech without fear of legal action. An article in PC World earlier this week highlights some of the problems that disabled people experience with rights-managed media.

The DMCA punishes people with disabilities, say some experts in law and technology. They contend it clashes with existing copyright laws and even the Constitution.

"This law has to be reformed," says Robin Gross, an attorney and executive director of IP Justice, an international civil liberties organization.

"Freedom of speech guarantees of the Constitution explicitly require that copyright holders do not have total control over" how someone experiences their work, Gross says. But she contends the DMCA reverses that right by allowing copyright-holders to lock a PC from giving voice to e-books.

Between 60 and 90 percent of the estimated 50,000 e-books available lock out text-to-speech software, advocates for the disabled say. Many of those are recent bestsellers, but even literature in the public domain for hundreds of years is locked under some e-book implementations.

If the e-books werenit locked, text-to-speech software could easily and quickly make the works available to sightless readers.

"It just is a tragedy," says George Kerscher, a senior officer at Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, a nonprofit organization that converts written texts into audio books.

"How stupid are we when the information exists in a digital form and weive got to go through the time-consuming, laborious, expensive, error-prone process of having somebody scan it or re-key it?" Kerscher says.

Currently, anyone bypassing copy protection on an e-book can be fined $2,500 for a single violation of the DMCA. The Copyright Office will rule on this and various other exemption requests later this year. You can read more about these developments at the PC World Web site.