Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Nicolas Suzor, Associate professor, Queensland University of Technology
image

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 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.

Authors: Nicolas Suzor, Associate professor, Queensland University of Technology

Read more http://theconversation.com/australias-copyright-reform-could-bring-millions-of-books-and-other-reads-to-the-blind-67709

Writers Wanted

Five ways Australians can save the planet without lifting a finger (well, almost!)

arrow_forward

Ray Hadley's interview with Scott Morrison

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Ray Hadley's interview with Scott Morrison

RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ray.   HADLEY: I was just referring to this story from the Courier Mail, which you’ve probably caught up with today about t...

Ray Hadley & Scott Morrison - avatar Ray Hadley & Scott Morrison

Prime Minister's Remarks to Joint Party Room

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is great to be back in the party room, the joint party room. It’s great to have everybody back here. It’s great to officially welcome Garth who joins us. Welcome, Garth...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

7 foolproof tips for bidding successfully at a property auction

Auctions can be beneficial for prospective buyers, as they are transparent and fair. If you reach the limit you are willing to pay, you can simply walk away. Another benefit of an auction is tha...

Dominique Grubisa - avatar Dominique Grubisa

Getting Ready to Code? These Popular and Easy Programming Languages Can Get You Started

According to HOLP (History Encyclopedia of Programing Languages), there are more than 8,000 programming languages, some dating as far back as the 18th century. Although there might be as many pr...

News Co - avatar News Co

Avoid These Mistakes When Changing up Your Executive Career

Switching up industries is a valid move at any stage in your career, even if you’re an executive. Doing so at this stage can be a lot more intimidating, however, and it can be quite difficult know...

News Co - avatar News Co



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion