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Access to published works

Access to published works

Edited by Nirmita Narasimhan, The Centre for Internet & Society, Bangalore, India

Section Summary
Both legal and technical aspects affect access to information for persons with disabilities. Published works are the subject matter of national copyright laws, which vary from nation to nation. The copyright laws of countries are responsible for determining whether conversions for the benefit of print impaired persons are possible without seeking permissions from copyright holders. According to a study by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) on exceptions and limitations for the visually impaired (a report by Judith Sullivan), only 57 countries have specific provisions to make copyrighted works accessible to print impaired persons. There is a need to develop more open and co-operative standards.

The stringency of copyright legislation is driving the rise of new and alternative models to traditional copyrights: open and flexible models of licensing such as the open content and creative commons licenses which are used for software, music and art works. These licenses have been discussed in more detail in this section.

Technological challenges related to the access of information arise because of the format in which the information is being presented, as well as the digital rights management regime of a country. Access to knowledge for persons with disabilities can be facilitated to a significant extent by conformance with certain technological standards and sharing platforms, namely open standards and open access/content. Open standards are very important to ensure interoperability between different software technologies. This section goes on to discuss some important open formats and standards, as well as some best practices from around the world.

Right to Read is a fundamental right for all persons in the Information age. The ability to seek, receive and impart information and ideas is vital to ensuring that all persons are able to participate productively in the cultural, scientific and economic life of the country. However, there are several groups of persons who are unable to access materials in the printed form due to a physical, sensory or cognitive disability (print impaired persons). These may be persons who are blind or have low vision, persons who are dyslexic, have a learning disability or a physical or motor disability which prevents them from holding or turning the pages of a book. This section provides an overview of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in accessing published works.

There are two specific areas affecting access to information for persons with print impairments, namely legal and technical aspects.

Legal Challenges
Published works are the subject matter of national copyright laws, which vary from nation to nation. To make available the printed book in an accessible format, it is mandatory to obtain permission from the copyright holder, unless the copyright law of a country permits conversion as an exception for fair use. Elsewhere, in countries like USA, UK, Germany and 54 other countries, organisations for the blind make and distribute accessible copies to its members without the necessity of having to obtain permissions from copyright holders. Members of such organisations in these countries are also able to share the accessible books with each other.

The copyright laws of countries are responsible for determining whether conversions for the benefit of print impaired persons are possible without seeking permissions from copyright holders.  According to a study by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) on exceptions and limitations for the visually impaired (a report by Judith Sullivan), only 57 countries have specific provisions to make copyrighted works accessible to print impaired persons. Some of the countries cited as having systems in place for the production and national dissemination of accessible copies are Kenya, UK, Brazil, Canada and USA. Similarly, some countries that have infrastructure in place for the production and international dissemination of accessible copies include Netherlands, Russia and France.

On the other hand, there are nearly 127 countries which do not make any special provisions for print impaired persons to convert and read books. Consequently, persons in these countries have very few books in accessible formats. The World Blind Union estimates that this may be as less as 5 per cent in developed countries and 0.5 per cent in developing countries. Blind persons in these countries are also unable to borrow accessible materials from libraries in other countries.

Solution: It is necessary for countries around the world to work together towards setting an international framework in place in order to facilitate the creation and cross-border exchange of books in accessible formats.

As of the end of 2009, there is a treaty being proposed by three Latin American Countries (Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay) at the WIPO, which is the norm setting body of the United Nations (UN) with regard to intellectual property, which calls for global harmonisation of copyright laws to facilitate access to copyrighted works for persons with print impairments. Such a Treaty would provide an ideal stimulus for countries to amend their copyright laws and give full effect to the rights of persons with disabilities to access information and cultural content.

Alternate licensing models
The stringency of copyright legislation and its consequent restriction of public access to cultural and scientific works combined with rapidly changing methods of cultural production and collaboration are driving the rise of new and alternative models to traditional copyrights.

Recent trends have witnessed a shift to open and flexible models of licensing such as the open content and creative commons licenses which are used for software, music and art works. These alternative licenses can be classified into different categories, taking into account the medium they address, nature of the license and the validity of the license.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that was set up in 2001 and works to increase the amount of cultural, scientific and education content that is available in the commons i.e. the body of work available in the public domain for people to use, share, repurpose and remix in a free and legal manner. Inspired in part by the GNU GPL, Creative Commons has come up with a set of free licenses that can be used by people to license their works freely for certain uses, on certain conditions; or dedicate their works to the public domain. The widespread use of these licenses can go a long way in securing access to knowledge for print impaired persons.

CC Licenses are Informative and user friendly and are being customized for different jurisdictions. There are 6 main types of licenses available to the user, based on three parameters:

  1. Attribution -this is the right to be identified as the author of the work and has been defaulted to yes in the latest version as most authors wish to retain this right

  2. Commercial Use - choice of whether the work can be made available for commercial use or only for non-commercial purposes

  3. Modification/Creation of derivative works - Choices are "Yes" (people can create derivative versions without restrictions), "No" (can only reproduce work verbatim) or "Conditional Yes" (can produce derivative works provided the derivative work is licensed the same way as the original)

The different types of licenses available are:

  1. Attribution (CC-BY) - This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon the work, even commercially, as long as they credit the author for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with the licensed work.

  2. Attribution Share Alike (CC-BY-SA) - This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon the work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under identical terms. This license is similar to the GNU GPL and ensures that all derivative works will carry the same license as the original and will also allow commercial use.

  3. Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND) - This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the author.

  4. Attribution Non-Commercial (CC-BY-NC) - This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon the work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge the author and be non-commercial, they don't have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

  5. Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA) - This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon the work non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under identical terms. Others can download and redistribute the work as well as translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on the original work. All derivative work will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

  6. Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) - This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the "free advertising" license because it allows others to download the work and share them with others as long as they mention the author and link back to her, but they can't change them in any way or use them commercially.

It is estimated that over 130 million works were licensed under CC licenses in 2008.

Technological Challenges
Print impaired persons can access information in a variety of formats, ranging from mainstream electronic formats like accessible HTML, MS Word, Text, PDF, etc., to specialised formats such as Braille, large print, audio and so on. In the case of electronic formats, there are several assistive technologies such as screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, etc., which enable access to electronic information. Of key importance to users of assistive technologies when accessing content in an electronic format is whether the content contains a structure which can be interpreted by these assistive technologies. For example, in an accessible HTML, content in data tables can be ‘marked up' in order to provide information on the layout of the table to the screen reader user. Similarly, formats such as accessible PDFs can be ‘tagged' to provide a correct reading order of the text as well as to provide information on the flow and structure of the content including chapter headings and sub-section headings. Without such embedded structure, content in electronic formats can be difficult or even impossible for print impaired people to access.

Another significant barrier to access to works can be found in the form of DRMs (Digital Rights Management) and TPMs (Technological protection Measures). Articles 11 and 12 of the Wipo Copyright Treaty (WCT) and articles 18 and 19 of the WPPT (WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty) have made it possible for member states to oblige the setting in place of a digital rights management regime. DRM systems are undesirable because they grant copyright owners digital rights which go far beyond property rights which are the subject matter of Copyright. The copyright owners get the power to decide whether or not to give access to works, irrespective of the fact whether the works are copyrighted. They also extend control to ideas and works in the public domain. Furthermore, since DRMs are used to trace users, they also raise serious concerns of data protection and privacy. Today one finds increasingly that DRMs are exercised by intermediaries and not necessarily the authors of works. Hence often times, even authors are unable to access their own works in different formats or using different devices due to the DRMs placed by the distributor.

Recently, Amazon released the Kindle Book reader, which also has the potential to make many books accessible due to its text to speech feature. However, copyright holders and publishers protested and forced the restricted availability of this feature, thus denying print impaired people access to many books. At present, Amazon is working on improving the accessibility of Kindle's menus and other features and has a workaround for the disabled users, where certified print disabled people can get access to the text to speech feature.

Open Standards
Access to knowledge for persons with disabilities can be facilitated to a significant extent by conformance with certain technological standards  and sharing platforms, namely  open standards and open access/content. Open standards are very important to ensure interoperability between different software technologies. Since most government information and transactions are now carried on over the internet, governments have to recognise the need for promoting open standards through interoperability frameworks to ensure enhanced transparency and efficiency in government actions, promote informed decision making and better public services. This will open up the entire world of public information which is available on government web sites but unavailable for persons with assistive technologies because of technological incompatibility. In countries like USA, Germany, Korea, UK, and so on, accessibility of public information services is mandated under legislation and policies and hence, it is easy to ensure that even private service providers deliver information in an accessible manner.

However, although electronic books have ushered in a revolution for print impaired persons by enabling access to content at the same time and in the same format as everyone else, the lack of adherence to accessible standards while creating electronic documents frustrates the possibility of instant and easy access for persons using assistive technologies. Governments should recognise the importance of promoting open standards through an interoperability framework to ensure enhanced transparency and efficiency and better delivery of e governance services to the public. Creators of electronic documents should make an effort to ensure that their documents are created in an accessible manner. Some of the international standards that enable the creation of accessible electronic documents such as DAISY, EPUB and PDF are briefly explained in this section.

DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information System and is a standard for digital talking books that aims to revolutionize the reading experience for people who have print disabilities by making published information available to them at the same time and at no greater cost, in an accessible, feature-rich, navigable format. A DAISY book is a set of digital files that includes:

  • One or more digital audio files containing a human narration of part or all of the source text;

  • An optional  marked-up file containing some or all of the text;

  • A synchronization file to relate markings in the text file with time points in the audio file; and

  • A navigation control file which enables the user to move smoothly between files while synchronization between the text and audio is maintained.

The DAISY Standard allows the producing agency full flexibility regarding the mix of text and audio ranging from audio-only, to full text and audio, to text-only. DAISY books can be read using a digital playback device (similar to a portable CD player) or a software programme on a computer.

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) has developed standards for text based digital reflowable books and publications. "EPUB" is the file extension of such an XML format developed by the IDPF and is composed of three open standards, the Open Publication Structure (OPS), Open Packaging Format (OPF) and Open Container Format (OCF), produced by the IDPF. "EPUB" allows publishers to produce and send a single digital publication file through distribution and offers consumers interoperability between software/hardware for unencrypted reflowable digital books and other publications.

Adobe PDF
Adobe's portable document format (PDF) also has several features to make the document accessible. It is possible to make existing PDFs more accessible using Adobe Acrobat 9 pro or create fully accessible PDF documents from almost any source. However, PDF is generally a fixed page format which will not reflow according to screen size unlike OPS which is a reflowable format which will reflow according to screen size.

Knowledge Sharing Practices
As a consequence of the legal and technical challenges, several models have evolved in order to facilitate knowledge sharing within the existing legal and technical frameworks. Some of these are outlined below.

Open content/open access
The internet has opened up new models of knowledge production and sharing which are open and collaborative. Academic institutions such as universities are increasingly recognising the merit of adopting an open access model for their scientific research outputs. This helps to provide universal access and equal opportunities for all. Most research in countries is funded by public money. Funding agencies such as the research councils and the Wellcome Trust in the UK and NIH and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the USA have mandated open access for research they support. Open educational resources such as the MIT courseware and the Commonwealth of Learning play a very fundamental role in facilitating access to knowledge for all, especially persons with disabilities. Hence, countries should increasingly look towards developing open access and open educational resources as a tool for enabling universal access and create policies and resources towards that end.

Library Services for the Blind
There are several libraries catering to the needs of blind persons in different countries around the world. Some well known examples are the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in the UK, in USA, The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Tiflolibros in Argentina, and so on. These libraries convert books into alternate formats such as Braille, audio and electronic formats and distribute them to their members. However, at present, these libraries are not able to operate on an international level since the copyright laws of countries do not necessarily permit them to import and export books across borders. Consequently, organisations spend lots of time, effort and resources in duplication of work which has been done in other countries. This situation can only be solved if there is some kind of international consensus on cross-border exchange of books in accessible formats.

BookShare is an initiative in the USA supported by a non-profit organization, Benetech, which operates under the exception given in the U.S. law, which permits conversion into accessible formats for print impaired persons on the fulfilment of certain prescribed conditions. Members upload and share books which have been scanned by them with other members, thus multiplying the benefit gained from the effort of one person. In addition to this, also obtains digital copies of books directly from publishers. All this content is converted into digital talking books and digital Braille books which are distributed to schools, libraries and other individuals having print impairment.
Open Library is a project of the non-profit Internet Archive, which is funded in part by a grant from the California State Library. The Open Library is an open semantic wiki that aggregates bibliographic metadata from world's leading libraries and publishers that includes references to electronic book collections, physical libraries and booksellers with the aim of displaying a page on the Web for every book ever published. The Open Library's goal is to listevery book whether in-print or out-of-print, available at a bookstore or a library, scanned or typed in as text.

Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is the UK's leading charity offering information, support and advice to over two million people with sight loss. The RNIB National Library Service is the largest specialist library in the UK for readers with sight loss, with over 40,000 titles and isfree to join and use except for the subscription based Talking Books. A subscriber can borrow six books at a time, with a loan period of three months (no limit for Talking Books) and postage is free. Subscription to talking books also includes the loan of a DAISY player and the talking book service has over 16,000 audio books. The library also has Braille books, giant print books and Moon books, books for children and young people, Braille Music and online reference services.

Tiflolibros is a Spanish language digital library for the blind and was created in 1999 by a group of blind friends in Argentina, who wanted to exchange their digital books in order to widen their access to culture and education. It has grown to have more than 20,000 books in Spanish available for more than 3000 members with blindness or other severe disabilities in America, Europe and Asia. Tiflolibros offers an online catalogue that registered members can download using their personal password. Each member then "reads" the books through synthetic-voice reading computers, Braille, tapes or other electronic reading devices for people with disabilities.

Google Books
Google has partnered with libraries as well as publishers and authors around the world to digitize and make their books discoverable through Google. Through the Google book search, users can carry out a full text search within the books available on the Google books project and view matches although Google initially allowed a download of the full book, which has now been reduced to a preview along with an option to purchase for people accessing copyrighted books in the U.S., as part of the Google Books settlement reached on the lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers. However, this does not affect users in other countries. Google is also working on improving the accessibility of its Book Search and has already included a link that allows screen readers to read the scanned text displayed in Google Books search results.

Resources in this section


Summary: An in-progress wiki page which has articles on various software and hardware assistive technologies for persons with disabilities

Keywords: Assistive technology, accessibility, disabilities
Target Audience: Persons with disabilities (PWDs), policy developers, web developers

Summary: American Foundation for the Blind site with information on accessible formats and need for these.
Keywords: Blind, accessible, digital talking book
Target Audience: Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs), policy makers, publishers

Summary: Disabled World website outlining the features of the Kindle and associated accessibility issues
Keywords: Kindle, book reader, text to speech
Target Audience: Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs)

Legal challenges
WIPO website for exchange of views, and dissemination of information to all parties interested in the issue of access to information and cultural content by reading-disabled persons
Keywords: IP, reading disabled, WIPO
Target Audience: VIPs, policy makers, activists

Summary: Brief summary of implications of the WBU proposal for a WIPO treaty for the reading disabled
Keywords: WIPO; WBU, reading disabled
Target Audience: Lay persons, PWDs, policy makers, activists

Summary: Study on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for the Visually Impaired
Reference: Judith Sullivan report
Limitations, exceptions, copyright, visually impaired
Target Audience: VIPs, policy makers

Summary: Knowledge Ecology International website with latest updates on WIPO treaty to expand access for people with disabilities
Keywords: WIPO, KEI, access
Target Audience: Policy makers, VIPs, activists

Summary: Website of the World Blind Union, worldwide movement of blind and partially sighted people
Keywords: World Blind Union, WBU
Target Audience: VIPs, policy makers, activists

Summary: 2009 Proposal by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay, Relating to Limitations and Exceptions: Treaty Proposed by the World Blind Union
Keywords: WBU, treaty, limitations and exceptions
Target Audience: Policy makers, VIPs, activists, publishers

Summary:  Article on WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), meeting from December 14 to 18, 2009
Keywords: Copyright exceptions and limitations; reading disabilities;
Target Audience: VIPs, policy makers, publishers, activists

Alternate Licensing Models
A Guide to Open Content Licences, Lawrence Liang
Open content licenses
Target Audience: 
Everyone; publishers; activists; lawyers

Summary: Information on GNU GPL
Keywords: GNU; open content license; copyleft
Target Audience:  Everyone; publishers; activists; lawyers

Summary: Information about Creative Commons Licenses
Keywords: Creative commons; open licenses
Target Audience:  Everyone; publishers; activists; lawyers

Technological Challenges
Overview of accessible publishing
Accessible, publishing
Target Audience: 

Summary: Website of the International digital publishing forum, with links to specifications like Open Publishing structure (OPS), etc.
Keywords: digital, publishing, EPUB
Target Audience: publishers

Summary: Website of the Daisy consortium with the specification for the digital talking book or DAISY 3
Keywords: DAISY, digital talking book, standards
Target Audience: Publishers, VIPs

Summary: Links to studies and examples of accessible Adobe software and documents, best practices, etc.
Keywords: Accessible, Adobe
Target Audience: Developers, publishers, VIPs

Knowledge Sharing Practices

Library Services for the blind
Website of, US based book sharing service for people with print disabilities
Bookshare, accessible books, print disabilities, library
Target Audience:

Summary: Website of the Open library project
Keywords: Open library, Internet Archive, wiki
Target Audience: Everyone

Summary: Website of the RNIB, UK based not for profit organisation for the blind
Keywords: RNIB library service
Target Audience: VIPs

Summary:  Website of Tiflolibros, Spanish language digital library
Keywords: Tiflolibros; Spanish talking books
Target Audience: Spanish speaking VIPs

Summary: Google Books Settlement Overview
Keywords: Google books; settlement
Target Audience: Everyone

Summary: Accessible features in Google Books
Google book search, accessibility
Target Audience: