The link below is to an article that takes a look at the end of the Microsoft Ebook store and ponders the curse of DRM.
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The links below are to articles that take a look at the 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist.
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The New Zealand parliament seems closer to adopting a bill to amend copyright legislation to make it easier for visually impaired people to access published works.
An estimated 90% of all written works published worldwide are not available in formats accessible to people with a print disability. This barrier affects an estimated 168,000 New Zealanders.
The 2013 Marrakesh Treaty, which New Zealand joined in 2017, would help end the “global book famine” by allowing access to more written works in formats such as Braille, large print or audio. Bringing the treaty into effect in New Zealand requires changes to the Copyright Act 1994, and the amendment bill is due to go through its final reading this week.
Copyright law and the right to read
Currently, creating accessible formats from existing works is only possible with the permission of the copyright owner or if there are exceptions limiting the copyright owner’s rights. Combined with a lack of infrastructure and the high cost of producing accessible works, this has created a global “book famine” for visually impaired people.
This affects not only those who read for leisure but also students and researchers, especially in developing and least developed countries. This lack of access to books and other copyright material is a hurdle to the realisation of several human rights, including the right to education, access to information, the right to participate in culture and to enjoy scientific progress, as well as the rights to health and employment. This is reflected in the Marrakesh Treaty’s focus on human rights and equality for the visually impaired.
The treaty’s provisions are designed to address problems such as long waits for authorisation or accessible format copies from a copyright owner, unreasonable restrictions imposed on accessible formats, and barriers to cross-border exchange of available accessible works that often result in duplication of production efforts.
Access to copyright works and higher education
Australian research found that when universities provided their visually impaired students with access to essential or prescribed texts, students generally obtained readings late. For instance, only 50% of print disabled first-year students had access to prescribed textbooks before the semester started.
Some universities reported far more substantial delays. In such cases, students would receive their essential readings only very late in the semester or after the semester is over. The reasons for delays vary, with some students not notifying the university that they require assistance. Additionally, reading lists are often not finalised until the first week of semester and publishers fail to respond to requests to provide accessible texts in a timely manner.
Publishers generally require students to buy a print copy of the work before they will provide access to an electronic version. Some are willing to provide download links, while others, particularly in the United States, often prefer to mail disc copies. Sometimes works are only available as preprint versions, which require a considerable amount of editing before they can be provided to students. This is a drain on university resources.
Consequently, not all students who would benefit from accessible formats currently obtain them. This means their chances of demonstrating their full potential are often compromised.
New Zealand’s Marrakesh Treaty implementation bill
The bill is part of a broader review of New Zealand’s copyright legislation to ensure “the copyright regime keeps pace with technological and market developments” since its last significant amendment in 2008. It expands the reach of section 69 of the Copyright Act 1994 that addresses the reproduction and distribution of accessible works.
One of the main changes is to broaden the scope of current exceptions and improve access for visually impaired New Zealanders. The bill also introduces measures to facilitate international sharing of accessible works. These changes help realise visually impaired people’s “right to read”.
A contentious issue for the implementation of the treaty in New Zealand and elsewhere is the so called “commercial availability test”. The test is currently a requirement in New Zealand for an “authorised entity” to make reasonable efforts to obtain an accessible copy at an ordinary commercial price. By far the cheapest, fastest and most convenient means of obtaining accessible format works is if they are available for sale through the normal channels.
But in the absence of easily available accessible copies, the test creates uncertainty and imposes an administrative burden on institutions that provide the visually impaired with accessible copies. This is why after hearing submissions on the bill, a select committee recommended the removal of the test.
The proposed changes to copyright legislation would allow people with a print disability to make accessible format copies or to receive those made by an authorised entity in New Zealand or elsewhere, without infringing copyright. While broadening the scope of the current exceptions, the bill has checks and balances in place that protect reproduced accessible formats, contrary to a misconception of allowing free-riding on copyright works.
This is of significance to university students as some may self-declare disabilities while others are reluctant to disclose an impairment. Universities emphasise that they provide a safe place for disclosure, but speedy provision of services remains an issue.
The increase in the availability of electronic texts has helped to meet needs, but it is not keeping pace with student demand and expectation. As part of an increasingly technology savvy student population, students with impairments now request electronic versions of texts and use technology to adapt them to their needs. Students no longer want enlarged or scanned material as this is much harder to manipulate. The amendments in the bill would enable them to create their own accessible formats, or source them without having to identify as print disabled.
Overall, the proposed law change is a positive step towards improving access to copyright works for visually impaired New Zealanders. It also helps New Zealand maintain its good global citizen status by allowing an exchange of accessible works with other Marrakesh Treaty members.
Amid reports last week that Yang was to be charged with endangering state security, Foreign Affairs Marise Paynee said he was being detained for his political views and should be released.
Yang is a member of the Australian media union, the MEAA, which backed calls for his release.
I’ve known Yang for many years – he is a former PhD student of mine – and I also believe he should be released.
I’ve seen reports sent to his wife, Yuan Xiaoliang, from Australian consul visits to Yang.
The reports say Yang is sealed off from the outside world without access to legal counsel or visits by relatives, and he has been subjected to interrogations twice a day.
A novel critic
So what has Yang done that has led to his detention for so long? In a nutshell, Yang is a political dissident no longer tolerated by the Chinese communist regime. He is paying a heavy price as a long-standing critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Yang, aged 54, abandoned his career as a communist cadre to embrace freedom and democracy in his middle age.
He earned his first degree in politics from Fudan University in China in 1987 and was assigned to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with connection to the Chinese secret police. He was eventually alienated by his job and developed a strong interest in literature.
He resigned from his post and moved to Australia with his wife and two sons in 1999 to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. In 2002-2005, he published a trilogy of spy novels, Fatal Weakness, Fatal Weapon and Fatal Assassination, in print and online.
These novels used his own experiences and those of his colleagues to tell the soul-stirring stories of a China-US double agent who ultimately serves the agenda for neither side but works for his own inspiration and conviction to serve the real interests of the people.
But the novels did not bring him the fame and wealth he expected, because they were published in Taiwan and banned in mainland China. An attempt to turn them into movies in Hong Kong also failed.
The rise of the blogger
At the end of 2005, Yang enrolled in a PhD in China Studies at the University of Technology Sydney under my supervision, starting his journey as a liberal scholar. By that time, I’d become a major contributor to the emergence of the Chinese liberal camp and Chinese liberal intellectuals.
Yang got his PhD in 2009 with a thesis titled The Internet and China: the Impacts of Netizen Reporters and Bloggers on Democratisation in China. The thesis was a timely, in-depth analysis of the complicated information warfare between the internet and the CCP regime.
As part of an experiment for his PhD thesis, Yang started his own blog (available now only on archive.org) and wrote commentaries on current affairs as a “citizen journalist”.
Yang is that rare combination of a scholar well trained in both China and the West, with a firm belief in the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
He chose to devote his talent and passion to online journalism in Chinese, hoping to accelerate China’s transformation toward constitutional democracy. He has published more than ten million words of online articles on this theme, earning the nickname “democracy pedlar” with tremendous following in the Chinese speaking world.
Several collections of his online articles have been published to wide audience, such as Family, State and the World (2010), Seeing the World with Black Eyes: The World in the Eyes of a Democracy Pedlar (2011), Talking about China (2014), and Keeping You Company in Your Life Journey (2014).
Yang is extremely good at explaining the profound in simple terms, using moving examples in everyday life to expose the social ills of communist autocracy and promote democratic values and institutions.
In particular, he provides timely analysis on all sorts of events around the world reported in the news, revealing the stark contrast between the harsh reality and the official rhetoric of the CCP.
Yang rarely engages in social activism, although he has maintained extensive connections with some Chinese human rights and democracy activists.
Yang has long been targeted by the Chinese security apparatus, which detained him in March 2011, taking him as one of the opinion leaders who has the capacity to mobilise nationwide social protests.
He was quickly released back to Australia due to the international media campaign and the diplomatic pressure of then Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s visit to China.
Why did he not learn his lesson? Well, he did tone down his voice after 2011. Since Xi Jinping’s rise to general secretary of the CCP in 2012, Yang adopted a soft strategy of packaging his advocacy for human rights and democracy as publicising “socialist core values” promoted by the CCP.
Yang was so successful with this new strategy that thousands of his followers organised support groups via the social media app WeChat in more than 50 cities around China. These include Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 2015, when human rights and democracy activists had met with brutal repression.
In 2016, when the political environment turned from bad to worse and Yang’s blogs were shut down one by one, he closed down all of the WeChat groups and substantially scaled down his online writing.
Moved to the US
He moved to New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University in 2017. He was able to travel to China several times and Chinese authorities lifted the ban on several of his blogs in China towards the end of 2018. This gave him the impression it was safe for him to visit China.
But during his visit this January he was detained upon his arrival.
Thousands of Yang’s supporters have been in despair, engaging in heated debates about his ordeal and its implications for political development in China.
Instead of following the international norm of presumption of innocence, the CCP regime continues Yang’s criminal detention despite the lack of evidence he’s done anything wrong.
This behaviour of political persecution and hostage diplomacy clearly demonstrates the contempt China has for human rights and international moral standards.
The Australian government and public are obligated to challenge the laws and practice of the CCP regime in safeguarding basic human rights of innocent citizens. The international community are also obligated to support this endeavour for human dignity, and thus the immediate release of Yang.