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Copyright Squabble Threatens Accessibility Boost for the Blind 61

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-imagine-acting-in-good-faith dept.
Ars reports on an international treaty being negotiated that would relax restrictions on versions of books made to be more accessible to blind people. Unfortunately, the MPAA and similar organizations have been lobbying aggressively to have the treaty strengthen copyright protections as well, and could derail the entire process. Quoting: "In principle, the digital revolution should have dramatically improved blind peoples' access to the world's information. ... Unfortunately, copyright law often stands in the way. Legal restrictions on circumventing digital rights management (DRM) technologies can limit the accessibility of e-books. And in some countries, libraries and other non-profits must seek permission from the creator of each work before producing accessible versions of books in other formats. Getting permission is a laborious process that, in practice, means that only a small fraction of available works is ever converted into accessible formats. ... The pending WIPO treaty would change that. It has two core goals that everyone we talked to supports in principle: requiring countries to enact an exception for blind people similar to America's Chaffee Amendment and allowing nonprofit organizations that help blind people to share accessible works across international borders. ... Negotiators had already excluded audiovisual works from the treaty in order to placate the movie studios. But to the frustration of treaty advocates, Hollywood has gotten involved in the negotiations anyway."
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Copyright Squabble Threatens Accessibility Boost for the Blind

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  • confused (Score:4, Insightful)

    by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday May 10, 2013 @10:58AM (#43685051)
    If I own an e-book, how is it illegal to use a text-to-speech program to hear it?
    • Re:confused (Score:5, Informative)

      by Shagg (99693) on Friday May 10, 2013 @11:01AM (#43685083)

      Because you often have to break the DRM in order for your text-to-speech program to access the content.

    • Re:confused (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Friday May 10, 2013 @11:02AM (#43685087) Homepage

      Why, because someone else could hear it, of course. You could even use it to read to children at libraries, and the right holders wouldn't get any money.

      The big problem as the copyright cartel doesn't give a damn about anything but their own profits. They want to force their own veto on all forms of technology lest someone accidentally hear a Brittany Spears song they didn't get paid for.

      They're entirely willing to scuttle most forms of technological progress to be damned sure they're in control of it.

      The fact that apparently Hollywood is involved in treaty negotiations should tell you it's their interests government is looking out for, not yours.

      • by MitchDev (2526834)

        The reasons to scrap copyright just keeping piling up...

      • It's more than just profit. Copyright greases the wheels of the propaganda machine by controlling who has access to what. Without copyright the whole house of cards comes crashing down. Control is vital.

        • by idontgno (624372)

          Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.

          -- U.N. Commissioner Pravin Lal, "U.N. Declaration of Rights"
          Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri [wikiquote.org]

          (My nominee for best quote by any fictional character)

    • Re:confused (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sarten-X (1102295) on Friday May 10, 2013 @11:11AM (#43685157) Homepage

      If your text-to-speech program can read the text, your text-to-text program can copy the text to somewhere else.

      Of course, the text-to-speech program isn't illegal, but redistributing the copyrighted text is. The copyright holders recognize that the only remotely-feasible way to stop illegal distribution is to make it difficult to make copies. That means that legally accessing the work becomes collateral damage, but that's perfectly acceptable to a special-interest group like the MPAA. They're not interested in helping the blind. They're interested in helping copyright holders.

      Unfortunately, there is no "everybody playing nicely together" lobby.

      • Re:confused (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Shagg (99693) on Friday May 10, 2013 @11:14AM (#43685199)

        They're interested in helping copyright holders.

        To be more specific, they're only interested in helping themselves. They couldn't care less about other copyright holders.

      • Re:confused (Score:4, Interesting)

        by RevWaldo (1186281) on Friday May 10, 2013 @11:22AM (#43685275)
        IIRC the other issue was the licensing of audio books, which text-to-speech readers would somewhat compete with.

        .
        • by Shagg (99693)

          Yep, that was the excuse given when the authors guild was trying to prevent e-book manufacturers from including a text-to-speech feature.

      • Of course, the text-to-speech program isn't illegal,

        Okay, I thought it was, because of the DMCA. But apparently even with the DMCA, it's not illegal to break DRM just to access a work you own a copy of, which is cool. Of course, it can be difficult to prove that DRM-breaking is used only for legal access.

        • by jythie (914043)
          It is, however, illegal to make tools to do it. So if every library and consumer hand rolled their own DRM breaking text to speech software they would be fine, but if you distribute a program that does it or put up documentation explaining how to do it yourself, you are in violation.
      • The copyright holders recognize that the only remotely-feasible way to stop illegal distribution is to make it difficult to make copies.

        The copyright holders desperately want to believe that there exists a feasible way to stop illegal distribution and that they can do so by diminishing the quality of their product for legitimate customers, in part by making it difficult to make copies. (FTFY).

        • by Sarten-X (1102295)

          Don't fix what isn't broken.

          The copyright holders recognize that the only remotely-feasible way to stop illegal distribution is to make it difficult to make copies.

          The copyright holders (represented by the myriad trade associations and lobbyist groups) recognize that (and lobby for) the only remotely-feasible (though imperfect) way to stop (or at least hinder) illegal distribution is to make it difficult to make copies (with difficulty to the users notwithstanding).

          The MPAA/RIAA/AAP/etc. aren't naive enough to think that DRM is actually going to completely stop piracy. Rather, they aim to make piracy just ever more difficult, eventually for

          • by Shagg (99693)

            The MPAA/RIAA/AAP/etc. aren't naive enough to think that DRM is actually going to completely stop piracy.

            The MPAA/RIAA don't use DRM to stop piracy (it's actually useless for stopping piracy), that's just a red herring to justify using it. The real goal with DRM is to eliminate fair use and first sale.

      • by jythie (914043)
        Part of the issue is that the text-to-speech program IS illegal. The program has to be able to read the text, which means it has to go through the DRM to do it.
      • by Ksevio (865461)

        If your text-to-speech program can read the text, your text-to-text program can copy the text to somewhere else.

        Ah yes! What if someone connected a voice recognition program to that!

      • by mpe (36238)
        Of course, the text-to-speech program isn't illegal, but redistributing the copyrighted text is. The copyright holders recognize that the only remotely-feasible way to stop illegal distribution is to make it difficult to make copies. That means that legally accessing the work becomes collateral damage, but that's perfectly acceptable to a special-interest group like the MPAA. They're not interested in helping the blind. They're interested in helping copyright holders.

        Actually they don't even appear to be
    • The problem is that the text-to-speech program has to break the DRM to get cleartext it can translate to speech. And yes, I believe that's illegal under current laws.

      • by Khashishi (775369)

        Bad laws are almost never repealed by petitions, demonstrations, or legal means. They are only repealed when brave people are willing to break the law. Then, the laws can judged in the courtroom, and hopefully be rendered invalid. Kinda weird system we have, but breaking the law is your patriotic duty.

    • according to Google...very!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 10, 2013 @11:06AM (#43685113)

    I would just like to say thank you to all the hard working dedicated people who make sure that I always have access to accessible ebooks via usenet and torrents, regardless of how many politicians the MPAA buys. And just so it's clear, yes I am really blind, and I am entirely sincere. Were it not for such altruistic individuals, getting my degree would have been much harder.

    • by xombo (628858)

      I am studying web accessibility and am curious what your impression is of the usability of various sites. Has the internet gotten worse or better as development methodologies have changed?

    • Not just the MPAA (Score:5, Informative)

      by langelgjm (860756) on Friday May 10, 2013 @11:43AM (#43685511) Journal

      There are a lot of big name companies opposing this treaty, including ones you wouldn't expect. The "Intellectual property owners association", which is headed up by representatives from Exxon Mobil, GE, and Johnson & Johnson wrote a letter opposing the treaty. Their concern is that they think it sets a bad precedent... get this.. for PATENT law:

      By isolating L/Es (limitations and exceptions) from the IP holders’ rights, the VIP (visually impaired persons) treaty negotiations could also set a dangerous precedent for other areas of IP law, particularly patent law.

      Source [keionline.org].

      Let's ignore the massive expansion of copyright without any mention of fair use through free trade agreements, and complain that the one real attempt to clarify limitations and exceptions is "imbalanced." Also from the letter:

      "A balanced approach to copyright protection cannot exist when rights and exceptions are treated separately."

      That's true, but not for the reasons they think.

      Basically, they are saying they would rather blind people have fewer things to read than to even HINT that copyright protection is currently too strong, since that might possibly induce people to question other areas of IP law, like patents. They ought to be ashamed.

      • They ought to be ashamed.

        That was the best post I've read all day with that one exception. Go try to find a lawyer or businessman that's ashamed of anything they do, I'll wait here.

  • Progress (Score:4, Funny)

    by Libertarian001 (453712) on Friday May 10, 2013 @11:12AM (#43685175)

    MPAA and RIAA... Standing in the way of progress for 100 years. Thank you for continuing to provide added value to our shared culture.

  • Wront title (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It should read Greed Threatens Accessibility Boost for the Blind

  • Can't you turn down the evil just a little bit?
  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Friday May 10, 2013 @11:37AM (#43685429)
    If you're allowed access to the material..., such as being able to check it out of the library or access it while on the library property or on the library internet connection, then why should there be any limits on transforming the data from one medium to another in order to allow a blind reader to know the words, or to allow automated voice recognition to create captions on the fly to allow deaf library patrons to be able to access and understand movies or disks that do not have intrinsic text captions embedded into the video stream or overlaid on the video itself?
    .
    That sort of transformative change, on the fly, to allow immediate access and use ought to be fully exempt from "copyright restrictions" just as creating a temporary copy in RAM on a computer as the data is in flight from your internet connection through your computer onto your screen also does not count as copyright infringement!!!!
    .
    This must be SO frustrating for the people who really need this access!!! How can we fix this? How can we help??? Is there something to be done?? Somewhere to sign up??? Any clues?
  • "Unfortunately, the MPAA and similar organizations "

    What has the Motion Picture Association Assholes got to do with books?

    Anyway it should be up to the individual copyright holder (author or publisher) whether or not to allow the blind to have access to their works.Somehow I don't think Homer would mind

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Unfortunately, the MPAA and similar organizations "

      What has the Motion Picture Association Assholes got to do with books?

      Funny you should still have to ask. The MPAA is the leader of the "copyright industry". These industries rely solely on copyright to make their fat bottom lines and thus will do anything to protect their racket.

    • If we make exceptions for the blind, our next step might to make exceptions for the deaf, for libraries, for schoolchildren, for the poor, and then one day the movie studios might have to actually adapt to new technologies instead of trying to kill them.
    • by Shagg (99693)

      What has the Motion Picture Association Assholes got to do with books?

      Nothing, but they're going to get in the middle of it anyway. They're opposed to any exemptions that weaken monopolistic control over a copyrighted work, whether or not it directly effects them.

  • ...doing as much evil as possible since 1922. "Who knew we'd be RELEVANT in the 21st century?"
  • I had thought of this idea as a way to ticket those assholes on the road that drive like maniacs when there are no cops around. If 50 (PRESET_LIMIT) people report a car changing lanes without a signal in one day (PRESET_TIME) then a fine could be sent. Speeding, cutting people off, running red lights, etc could be crowd sourced to achieve better driving from the public.

    Of course I would not like the idea myself. It seems a little overboard or something. Plus, I'm sure the black-hat hackers would find ways t

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