26 July 2010

Freedom Day in America

"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." United State Copyright Office 

This is one huge paragraph. It's confusing and legalese, of course, its from the United States Government, but it changes a world of things for schools and students. It is a rare victory for human differences and human choice over the forces of corporate and individual [2] greed, and it is a bit of proof of what a change in elected leadership can accomplish... even when that leadership is essentially clueless on education.

US Copyright Law had been re-written in the last 20 years by corporate suits trying to preserve their profits forever. It is Mickey Mouse Law, literally - concerned with Disney and RIAA profits and not user rights or freedoms. I have the suspicion that, if they could have, those behind the Digital Millennium Copyright Act would have outlawed libraries - "You're going to lend that book to anyone? No way!"

The law was written in such a way that even if you owned a book, it was essentially illegal to convert that book into, say, an audiobook for a student, unless that student had a diagnosed "print disability." Of course, the US flatly refused to define "print disability," creating a nightmare of uncertainty for educators, and blocking effective use of either Universal Design for Learning or Response to Intervention when it came to reading.

Even when the publisher sold you a digital book, these limits remained in place.

Now, the United States Government has switched direction. In a wide ranging ruling slapping down Apple, mobile phone networks, the Author's Guild, and the Hollywood studios, the US Copyright Office said today that, essentially, ownership is ownership. You can take your device or purchased content and do with it what you may, as long as its a non-profit use.

So, now you can, quite legally, circumvent digital blocks which prevent books - including textbooks - from "speaking." In my - non-lawyerly - opinion, if that circumvention means the low-tech solution of reading the book onto a podcast, well, go to it if your student will benefit and - you own the book. Of course you can also use text-to-mp3 converters, whether paid, or free.

Most importantly, you can do this for any student. You don't need to diagnose them as having a pathology. If you think your eight-year-old will do better listening than reading, if your high school chemistry student might understand better by listening, you now have the right to convert the media, and give it a try.

It also means that you now absolutely must demand, with every book sale to your school, that an open digital version be included which can be used with any student. The law is now on your side.

Thanks Barack Obama. I think (and say) that your educational policies are doing real harm to America's kids, and my thinking on that hasn't changed, but this change is one very big example of the idea that elections matter. On the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, information gained a big bit of freedom today, and the need to be declared "disabled" dropped a bit. That matters.

- Ira Socol

[1] "At least 40 e-books from Random House, including major titles from Toni Morrison and Stephen King, can no longer use the Kindle 2's TTS feature to read the books aloud." Electronista 2009

[2] "If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon's use of those rights is part of the dialog. Publishers certainly could contractually prohibit Amazon from adding audio functionality to its e-books without authorization, and Amazon could comply by adding a software tag that would prohibit its machine from creating an audio version of a book unless Amazon has acquired the appropriate rights. Until this issue is worked out, Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your e-books." - The Authors' Guild in 2009

1 comment:

Cathy Crea said...


Would you interpret this ruling (in your non-lawyerly opinion) to mean that I can read a book onto a podcast only if there is a digital version of the book?

Trying to find ways to help my students despite publishers' kicking and screaming....

Cathy Crea