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