Internet Archive launches new service for the print-disabled: free access to over 1 million books, including current titles.

Internet Archive logo

The Internet Archive launched a new service yesterday, bringing free access to more than 1 million books in the specially designed format to support those who are blind, dyslexic or are otherwise print-impaired.

This is great news just in terms of giving so many people easier access to books, but it's also interesting as an application of a little-known provision of U.S. copyright law — the Chafee Amendment of 1996, which states:

"...it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies or phonorecords of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities."

The new service demonstrates the principle behind the Chafee Amendment: that copyright is a conditional monopoly, not a property right, and that when we decide the monopoly is hampering an important public purpose, we can change it. The Chafee Amendment is an open acknowledgement that monopoly-based distribution was not serving the needs of the blind, the visually impaired, or dyslexic people very well, and that fixing that situation is simply a policy decision. It reminds us that copyright itself is a policy decision, and that if it is not serving the public well, we can change the policy.

The Internet Archive's press release is below:


More than doubling the number of books available to print disabled people of all ages, today the Internet Archive launched a new service that brings free access to more than 1 million books — from classic 19th century fiction and current novels to technical guides and research materials — now available in the specially designed format to support those who are blind, dyslexic or are otherwise visually impaired.

“Every person deserves the opportunity to enhance their lives through access to the books that teach, entertain and inspire,” said Brewster Kahle, founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “Bringing access to huge libraries of books to the blind and print disabled is truly one of benefits of the digital revolution.”

Kahle also announced that the Internet Archive will be investing in the growth of its virtual bookshelf by funding the digitization of the first 10,000 books donated. Individuals and organizations are welcome to donate their favorite book or a collection of books. Books in all languages welcome. To donate books visit: http://openlibrary.org/bookdrive

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Blind people must have access to repositories of digital information if we are to reach our goal of becoming full and equal participants in society. Access to the books that have been scanned by the Internet Archive in a format accessible to the blind will be another step toward that goal. We are excited about continuing to work with Internet Archive to make access to more books a reality.”

The 1 million+ books in the Internet Archive’s library for print disabled, are scanned from hard copy books then digitized into DAISY — a specialized format used by blind or other persons with disabilities, for easy navigation. Files are downloaded to devices that translate the text and read the books aloud for the user to enjoy. To access books visit: http://openlibrary.org/subjects/accessible_book

How an Audience-Distributed Film Won Big: talk at WordCamp SF

Karl Fogel

Update — video available: wordpress.tv/2010/05/01/karl-fogel-audience-distributed-film-sf10 (start at 2 min 24 sec to skip unrelated intro about conference lunch)

Update — slides available: ODP PDF

I gave a talk at WordCamp San Francisco this Saturday, May 1st: Bodysurfing the Blogosphere: How an Audience-Distributed Film Won Big. It's an in-depth look at how audience distribution worked for Nina Paley's freely-licensed film "Sita Sings the Blues". The talk was live-streamed, and we expect to have the downloadable video in a few days; we'll post it when it's available.

Think of this talk as the story behind the numbers, with a big nod to the disintermediation technologies (including WordPress, which I've had running my personal blog for years) that made it possible for a filmmaker's audience to become both her primary distributor and her primary source of income; the film also has commercial distributors, and I talked about that too.


Speaking of the blogosphere:

Our Artist-in-Residence, Nina Paley, has written a terrific post on her blog about why she stuck to her guns (er, or her USB sticks) and told Netflix no on DRM. She explained that they were welcome to offer her film Sita Sings the Blues on their streaming service only if they could offer it without Digital Restrictions Management that would interfere with viewers' ability to see, save, and share the film. Netflix wouldn't take off the DRM, and although Nina, as the licenseholder, could have granted them an exception, she chose not to, despite the considerable potential loss to her in viewers and in money.

She's gotten a lot of comments on her decision, with some people saying they didn't understand her objection to DRM on a streaming service. So she wrote a followup post What's wrong with "streaming" DRM? that explains the issue so clearly that we'll probably be appropriating it for this site at some point :-).

Enjoy both posts, and remember: one way to support her decision is to donate to the Sita Distribution Project. We've seen a spike in donations since she made her decision public, and that's a great feeling.

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The Cobbler: A New Career Model for Artists and Entertainers

Laure Parsons

A media professional with several years of experience in distribution and production, Laure Parsons is a consultant and filmmaker specializing in new approaches and technologies. Most recently Director of Home Media Sale and Marketing at Zeitgeist Films, she has worked for National Film Board of Canada, New Yorker Films and Tribeca Film Festival. She can be found at xplusxfilms.com and infinicine.com.


In the past, high production and distribution costs have forced artists into a kind of gambling mentality. In order to reach audiences, artists had to rely on production companies and distributors, who in turn had to take a large percentage of revenues to cover the high costs associated with producing a film, making a run of books, or releasing an album.

Because distributors spread their risk across many different works, betting that a few will "make it big", artists too were led to a lottery attitude: your work either won big or not at all. If a work had the fortune to make it big, it could sometimes make money for the artist despite many middlemen taking their pieces — but if it did not, the artist was unlikely to make much money at all.

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