NZ considers changes to copyright law as part of promise to help end global ‘book famine’



Most written works are not available in accessible formats, and this barrier affects about 168,000 New Zealanders.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-NC-SA

Lida Ayoubi, Auckland University of Technology and Melanie Johnson, University of Auckland

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.




Read more:
Australia’s copyright reform could bring millions of books and other reads to the blind


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.




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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.The Conversation

Lida Ayoubi, Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology and Melanie Johnson, , University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Australia’s copyright reform could bring millions of books and other reads to the blind



Image 20170322 25755 1y5edm2
Rule change should make it easier for more copyright works to be made available in Braille.
Chinnapong/Shutterstock

Nicolas Suzor, Queensland University of Technology

Proposed changes to Australia’s copyright law should make it easier for people to create and distribute versions of copyrighted works that are accessible to people with disabilities. The Conversation

The Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and other Measures) Bill was introduced to Parliament on Wednesday.

If passed, it would enable people with disabilities to access and enjoy books and other material in formats they can use, such as braille, large print or DAISY audio.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has long been calling for action to end the “world book famine” – only 5% of books produced in Australia are available in accessible formats. This means that people with vision impairment and other reading disabilities are excluded from a massive proportion of the world’s knowledge and culture.

Under the current law, educational institutions and other organisations can produce accessible copies of books, but the system is slow and expensive. Only a small number of popular books are available, and technical books that people need for work are often out of reach.

Technology should make accessibility much easier, but publishers have been slow to enable assistive technologies.

People with disabilities have long complained that they are not able to take advantage of new technologies such as inbuilt screen reading software on computers and smartphones.

Amazon’s Kindle, for example, used to allow text-to-speech to help blind people read books, but Amazon gave in to publishers’ fears and allowed them to disable the feature. Apple’s electronic books are much better, but there are still major gaps.

Our research looked at books available through electronic academic databases, and found that most ebook libraries have some features that frustrate full accessibility.

The Copyright Act in its current form does grant statutory licences for copying by institutions that assist people with disabilities, but there are no comprehensive exceptions for individuals. Research shows that even students in resourced universities have trouble accessing the materials they need to study.

A fair right for people with disabilities

The new Bill aims to create a clear right for individuals to copy materials into accessible formats. Critically, this new “fair dealing” exception also allows other people to help out by creating and sharing accessible versions of books and other materials.

This is a major milestone in making copyright law more fair. It implements Australia’s obligations under the Marrakesh Treaty, a landmark international agreement designed to stop copyright getting in the way of accessibility.

The Marrakesh Treaty, once implemented around the world, will enable organisations to share accessible books to the people who need them in other countries. This is an extremely important change as the costs of scanning and making a book accessible are so high that most blind people are denied access to most works.

Once the laws are clarified, the accessibility of books will increase dramatically. Google has been busy digitising the world’s books, and it has given those books to a charity called Hathi Trust. Soon, Hathi Trust will be able to share those books with blind people around the world.

Google’s partnership with Hathi Trust means that blind people will soon be able to access more than 14 million volumes almost overnight. This figure may grow quickly as Google has already digitised more than 30 million books. Very soon, the proportion of accessible books might jump from 5-10% to closer to 30%.

A missed opportunity

The Bill also proposes a number of other long awaited updates to Australian copyright law. But one thing the Bill does not do is fix a drafting error that has plagued Australian copyright law for the past decade.

When Australia signed the Australia – US Free Trade Agreement, we introduced a system of “notice-and-takedown” that would protect copyright owners. The system provides a way for people to ask online service providers to remove content that infringes copyright.

But the law was poorly drafted. It applied only to a small number of Internet Service Providers (such as Telstra, Optus and iiNet) but not the larger category of search engines and content hosts.

This means it does not apply to giants such as Google and Facebook. It also means that other organisations that host content uploaded by users, such as The Conversation, are also excluded.

These safe harbours provide a shield in case people – outside of the service provider’s control – use their networks to upload content that infringes any copyright laws.

The reason they are so critical is that it is often prohibitively expensive for the companies that host internet content to check all content before a user uploads it.

But the safe harbours aren’t free. The quid pro quo is that the ISP must introduce a notice and takedown scheme. This is one of the few effective mechanisms to get content removed from the internet, and has been a crucial part of protecting the rights of publishers and authors online.

Professor Kim Weatherall explains the drafting error in Australia’s copyright safe harbours.

When the new Bill was first drafted, it was set to fix the drafting error that excludes content hosts, search engines, universities and other organisations from the scheme. But the Bill introduced this week contains no such fix.

The extension of these safe harbours has become highly politicised, with major rightsholders warning that it looked like a win for Google and Facebook.

The past two decades of the internet in the United States have shown how critical the safe harbours are to all developers, both large and small. They reduce uncertainty and allow innovation in the ways that people access content.

So while this new Bill is important, it is also a missed opportunity. The drafting error in Australia’s copyright safe harbours means that neither tech companies or authors and publishers are well protected.


Tess Van Geelen, a Research Assistant at the Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, contributed to this article.

Nicolas Suzor, Associate professor, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Changing the World: December 19 – Blind Waiters


I won’t dwell too long on this suggestion – not because I don’t want to support the cause, which is to support blind people to find employment as waiters. There doesn’t seem to be an Australian or for that matter, a widely global application of the idea.

In several European cities there are restaurants which are in darkness, giving employment opportunities for the blind and increasing awareness of what it is like to be blind.

More information can be found at:

www.blindekuh.ch

www.danslenoir.com

 

A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton