ARL: “US Copyright Office Allows Access to E-books for People with Disabilities, but Licenses May Still Restrict Access”
Research libraries are committed to making information resources as broadly accessible as possible, regardless of users’ abilities or disabilities, but copyright law has played a role in prohibiting the international exchange of accessible books and other materials. Globally, fewer than 10 percent of publications are available in accessible formats according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), yet more than 250 million people are visually impaired. Most books published overseas in languages other than English are not available in the US in accessible formats. Copyright restrictions have exacerbated that access challenge through prohibitions on creating and distributing accessible works, which create additional barriers for people with disabilities to fully participate in classes or scholarly research, or simply read for leisure.
Despite the global promise of the Marrakesh Treaty and the implementing legislation in the US, blind people cannot always access the electronic literary works they want or need. Most publishers use technological protection measures (TPMs), or digital locks, to prevent users from accessing the content without using publisher-designated e-readers. In this and previous rulemakings, the US register of copyrights has noted the significant role of e-books in improving accessibility for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or print disabled, while acknowledging that TPMs interfere with the use of assistive technologies. Marrakesh Treaty signatories are explicitly required to ensure that legal protection for TPMs “does not prevent beneficiary persons from enjoying the limitations and exceptions provided for in this Treaty.”
Since 2020, a task force composed of members from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) has worked to implement the Marrakesh Treaty, creating a pilot for users to request and borrow books within the US and Canada, and across borders. The pilot will also inform how member libraries in the US and Canada—which collectively hold millions of print and electronic books—will implement the treaty. In Canada, the task force is working with authorized entities to understand how the legislation will be operationalized, and what is required for international lending. In the US, ARL will seek to ensure that licenses for electronic content do not waive rights like fair use, and do not require a user to seek permission from a rightsholder for uses that are fair.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.