Last day to submit petitions for copyright exemptions
Monday, November 3rd, is the last day to submit petitions (you can upload them) for “Exemptions to Prohibition Against Circumvention of Technological Measures Protecting Copyrighted Works”.
The details are here:
This is the triennial review of technological blocking of features and full works for copyrighted works.
This review is mandated under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
I’m not a lawyer (if you are an intellectual property lawyer, I’d welcome your comment on this post getting more technical), but here’s the basic situation as it pertains to e-books.
Publishers can insert code into an e-book file that prevents copying it or from doing certain other things to it. Using that code is often referred to as DRM (Digital Rights Management), although that’s actually a broader term.
It is generally illegal under the DMCA to “strip the DRM” so you can get around the publisher’s intended use policies.
Under certain circumstances, though, it is legal.
This review looks at changes to those exemptions…and could hypothetically add additional exemptions.
The first case that comes to mind for me, as regular readers of this blog know, would be blocking text-to-speech access.
Currently, a publisher can insert code into an e-book file which prevents text-to-speech software from accessing that text and reading it out loud.
My understanding of it, as an interested layperson, is that it is not illegal to use text-to-speech (since it does not create a copy, but it does streaming), nor is it illegal for a publisher to block the access…provided (in the latter case) that an accessible version for people with print disabilities is also available.
In other words, a publisher can block text-to-speech in the Kindle store version for most people, if a version where TTS works is available to those who can certify a disability.
I feel that TTS is not an infringing use, and I think the Copyright Office would generally agree. Let’s say, as an analogy, that publishers blocked increasing the text size to make it easier to read (I’m sure that would be technologically possible…PDFs presented as image files can’t be read by typical TTS software, for example).
Increasing the text size is a non-infringing use.
Would it be legal for the publishers to block text size increase?
Probably…but doing so couldn’t prevent the specific population of those who need larger text size to be able to access the book in some way.
Many people thought an exemption would be granted for TTS in previous “rulemakings”, and some argued that it had been (but that was, at the least, not unambiguous).
I explained that one of the rulings that led to people thinking the exemption had been granted here:
I did think that the case was just not as well presented as it could have been.
This time, the bar is lower:
“Unlike in previous rulemakings, the Office is not requesting the submission of complete legal and factual support for such proposals at the initial stage of the proceeding. Instead, in the first step of the process, parties seeking an exemption may submit a petition setting forth specified elements of the proposed exemption, as explained in the notice.”
So, you could submit a petition explaining why it should be legal to circumvent (get around) TTS blocking code, even without citing all the precedent.
A petition, by the way, does not, in this case, mean something with a bunch of signatures…think of it more as a formal request. You don’t need to get a 1,000 people to sign something by Monday to make this work.
I honestly don’t think I’ll get anything submitted this time…but if they don’t rule it as a legitimate exemption this time, I’ll put it on my calendar for three years from now!
I should be clear: people with a certified print disability can use a plug-in with Kindle for PC to make all books TTS accessible, even if the publisher has blocked the access:
However, that doesn’t mean you can read it on any Kindle devices. To the dismay of some, the current crop of Kindle EBRs (E-Book Readers…non-Fires) don’t have sound at all, so they can’t do TTS, but that plug-in won’t work for Fires, either.
I’d be delighted to see a ruling that just flat out said that, whether you can certify a disability or not, it’s legal to circumvent DRM for the purpose of TTS access.
I would take advantage of it personally (I currently don’t get books that block the access…nor do I knowingly link to them on this blog), but for me, it’s more about other people. Certifying a print disability can be difficult…and it’s logistically much more complicated for a print disabled family member to get an accessible version and other members of the same family have one accessible to sight-reading. The print-disabled accessible versions often don’t come out at the same time, as just one issue.
Many people with print disabilities would love the convenience of using a
or other device (I’d linked that one because that’s the one I personally use daily…and regularly for TTS in the car), rather than having to use a PC version or other reader. The HDX has a lot of accessibility features (audible menus, the ability to read aloud what you are touching on the screen), and would be a big plus for that group.
What would happen if they rule that it’s okay for anyone to circumvent for TTS?
I think, right away, we would see apps that could do it…and probably free ones.
Not too long after that, it’s possible the publishers would simply stop blocking it. If the block was ineffective for many people, it might not be worth the costs (it has to cost something to insert the code…and there are public relations costs) to block it.
There won’t be a decision immediately, but virtual fingers crossed…
If you do submit a petition (or have already) and want to share it with me and my readers, feel free to comment on this post. If you have any other thoughts on this (Are there other exemptions which should be in place? Should publishers be able to block TTS to protect audiobook sales?), again, feel free to comment on this post.
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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. Shop ’til you help!
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.