More information on circumventing TTS

More information on circumventing TTS

Yesterday, there was a great deal of buzz in the Kindle community about a ruling from the Librarian of the Library of Congress.  It was widely interpreted to mean that it would now be legal to circumvent (“hack”) the access controls (DRM…Digital Rights Management) to undo the blocking of text-to-speech (TTS) in Kindle store books.

The language seemed to me to be clear and to state what had been stated in previous findings.

If a publisher makes a book available in an accessible manner to those with print disabilities, it is legal for the publisher to block the text-to-speech access in the Kindle store edition, and illegal to circumvent the preventions placed therein.

There were many people, and people whom I particularly respect, who were seeing it the other way.

I think one of the things that gave us a different perspective was that I’ve previously read quite a bit (and written some) about it.  I suspect that one of the things that made us see it differently was my familiarity with the term “authorized entities”.  That refers to the Chafee Amendment, which allows specific types of groups to produce versions of copyrighted works exclusively for those with print disabilities without first obtaining permission from the rightsholder(s).

You can see more information on the documentation is this previous post of mine, The Disabled Deserve to Read.   I have a link there to information on the Chafee Amendment, for example, and to a previous finding on the same topic.

Let’s take a look at the widely-quoted portion of the current ruling:

“(6) Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format”

http://www.copyright.gov/1201/

This seems unambiguous to me. 

Let’s take, for example, The Passage by Justin Cronin, a current New York Times fiction bestseller.  I’m not linking to it, because I don’t want to benefit from a book from a company that blocks text-to-speech access.

This was has the text-to-speech blocked in the Kindle store edition.

Is there an edition available that allows text-to-speech or conversion to a specialized format (that means Braille, as one example)?

Yes.

It’s available from http://www.bookshare.org .  That’s a site that requires certification of a disability, essentially.  It would fall under those “authorized entities” that were mentioned.

Do “…all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format”?

No, there is one at Bookshare. 

That means it is not eligible for the exemption to the prevention of circumvention.

However, I thought the language in the 2003 ruling was clearer…there was a paragraph that talked more about the print disability issue.

Therefore, I was happy to find that on the same page where the new ruling was made, there was a link to the Register’s recommendations, which has  much more narrative feel:

The Recommendation of the Register of Copyrights (pdf)

In over 250 pages, it looks at the recommendations.

There were some very interesting passages.  This is probably the most significant one:

“If an accessible ebook edition of a work is available in the marketplace or a digital text is available through a § 121 authorized entity, then the exemption does not apply.”

When a book is made available through a Section 121 authorized entity, the exemption does not apply.  Bookshare (and this is just one such organization) cites Section 121 on its website.

Notice that this paragraph doesn’t say the enabled version must be available commercially AND through a Section 121…one or the other is sufficient.

This was another important one to me, that mentions the Kindle specifically:

“Thus, there is insufficient evidence in the record to support a conclusion that there are restrictions on ebooks distributed for use on the Kindle that have adversely affected the ability of users of ebooks to engage in noninfringing uses, or to determine how a class might be fashioned if such an adverse effect were shown to exist.”

There is a lot of talk in the recommendation about the quality of the evidence presented.  They aren’t saying that restrictions on the Kindle haven’t adversely affected people, but that they haven’t seen the necessary evidence to reach that conclusion.

It’s also stated that

“…the prohibition does not apply to public domain works.”

This section suggests that, since books that are in the public domain don’t follow under the aegis of the Copyright Office, whether you circumvent the controls on those books or not is not up to them.  It felt to me as though it would be legal to circumvent access controls on a purely public domain book, but I’d be careful on that: a new introduction in that book, new illustrations, or if it is a new translation, could place at least portions of the book under copyright protection.

Finally, the recommendation makes it clear that:

“There is no dispute that making an ebook accessible to the blind is a noninfringing use.”

But that doesn’t mean that they have to make every version of every title accessible.  Think of it this way: if you have one entrance with a wheelchair ramp, you don’t have to have all of your entrances have a wheelchair ramp.  You are allowed to have a ramp and stairs next to each other.  You can have both a non-accessible revolving door and an accessible button operated swinging door next to each other.

To re-emphasize, I would love it if all the books in the Kindle store had the blocks to text-to-speech access removed.  However, this ruling doesn’t seem to change it being legal for the publishers to place those blocks, and illegal for users to circumvent them (as long as an edition exists that is accessible, even if it requires print disability certification).

One last point: I know that some of you, I’d even venture to guess the majority, don’t care about this issue.  I ran a poll a while back, and 71% of the respondents said they don’t use text-to-speech.  I would suggest that you might care about this issue even if you don’t personally use TTS, but I do want to say this.  Even if the majority of my readers don’t care about these posts, there is a minority that considers this a very important issue.  That minority includes me.  I try to keep my posts varied, so all my subscribers feel like they are getting their ninety-nine cents a month worth.  Some people don’t like the “mathy” posts, or the inside publishing posts, or the humor, or the free book posts…well, most people like the last one, I think.  ;)  I’d love to never write about the text-to-speech issue again…if it was because all the publishers that block TTS had reversed their positions.  Well, I’d write about it thanking them and saying how great it was for the disabled and those whose print challenges don’t rise to the legal level of a disability, and um, exercisers, knitters, commuters…oh, well.  :)  Next post will probably be some freebies, so hang in there if you don’t like hearing about TTS. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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4 Responses to “More information on circumventing TTS”

  1. Deanna Says:

    I care deeply about Text to Speech, and appreciate that you are on top of it. I care about it because I use it frequently, and because I know others who have impairments that make TTS a godsend.

    Like you, I actively boycott books that block TTS. I have purchased maybe 2 books, out of many scores of books, that block TTS, and there was some compelling reason, probably work or research related, that I had to have that book and really wanted the kindle version for search or portability. And I cringed and kicked all the way to getting those non-TTS books. I abhor the TTS block and hope that eventually the industry will grow out of its hangups about this feature.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Deanna!

      Nice to hear from somebody who also cares about the issue. I don’t mind when my readers don’t, but you are a nice balance to a recent comment. :)

  2. Gene Stuffremian Says:

    I bought a Kindle for my dyslexic teenager. If only publishers realized how liberating TTS is for anyone who struggles with print for any reason and how crushing it is to find a book to hopefully purchase, only to realize that TTS has been disabled, making the book inaccessible. Up to 20% of the population is dyslexic to some degree and there are more people with minor vision issues like dry eyes or who get blurred vision after a short time of close work. Publishers should realize that this is a huge untapped market… but only if TTS is enabled!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Gene!

      I completely understand that disappointment. My feeling is that the publishers are trying to protect a shrinking market (audiobooks) at the expense of an expanding market (e-books). My feeling is that it would be the best business decision for them to enable text-to-speech in all books. As you mention, there is a huge market in people whose print difficulties do not rise to the legal level of a disability.

      Part of the confusion for them, I think, comes from the Chafee Amendment. In the past, they may have felt that copyright section (and some other plans in place) resolves them of any concerns for people with print disabilities. I don’t think they are seeing TTS as a market expansion, which I very much believe it is. I do think there is hope on this. My intuition is that it also helps the audiobook market, by accustoming readers to listening to books.

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