The British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) is backing efforts to persuade the Government to go further in allowing disabled people to make copies of documents, music, films and photographs in accessible formats, when it revises the Copyright Act.
Under proposed changes to copyright law, the Intellectual Property Office aims to relax restrictions on copying to allow anyone to copy materials that they own to any format or device, as long as it is for their personal use.
“This is terrific news for print-impaired people, because it would mean that they can ‘format shift’ at will,” says Ian Litterick, a council member of BATA and chairman of assistive software company iansyst.
“They could, for example, take a document, scan it and adapt it to large print with blue type on a yellow background, if that is what they find more comfortable to read. Or they could take a PDF file from the web and convert it to an audio file to listen to on their iPhone as they commute to work.
“This change could be hugely beneficial to people with a reading impairment – not just visually impaired or dyslexic people but also those with mobility problems and general learning difficulties.”
However, BATA, which represents leading assistive technology organisations, wants to see the Government go further and allow an individual to copy any material that they have legal access to. The change in wording from “owning” to “have legal access to”, would allow disabled people to make copies in alternative formats of material in libraries, public websites and other information stores.
iansyst, which is developing a cloud based format shifting service for students and other people who have problems reading called MyDocStore, argues that in an electronic age it is distribution rather than copying that needs to be controlled in order to protect creative rights.
New legislation, says BATA, should also make it clear that private copying need not involve trying to maintain the integrity of the original work; and that the private copying exception especially for disabled people should also be allowed when technological protection measures, or digital rights management, are applied to materials. For example, it is possible to lock PDFs to prevent copying.
In addition, there should be no restriction on who can carry out activities such as subtitling or making accessible copies for print impaired people, as long as they keep to the law. But approved bodies copying for storage and distribution should still be obliged to retain the integrity of the original as far as possible. Exceptions should not be capable of being overridden by contracts.
“MyDocStore allows people automatically to format shift to more accessible formats on different devices with as little bother as possible,” says Litterick. “It is a classic case for needing new copyright legislation to remove any question of illegality for people using a service that most people will welcome and think fair use.”
Up until now disabled people have had to rely on an exception to the Copyright Act, made for visually impaired people. But this exception has not applied, for example, to people with dyslexia, who have been left in many cases to break the law if they want to adapt something so that they can read it.
Changes to copyright law, were proposed in last year’s Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, which was dubbed the Google review after the search company said it could never have set up in the UK, because of the country’s outmoded copyright laws.
The report’s author, Professor Ian Hargreaves, recommended legalising the practice of copying music and films. It also suggested the setting up of a new agency to mediate between those wanting to license music, film and other digital content, and rights owners.
Unlike most countries, Britain's current intellectual property regime makes it technically illegal to transfer content from CDs or DVDs on to a different format, such as an MP3 file on a computer, but millions of people daily break the law by copying CDs and web tracks on to their iPods and phones.
A Government response to a recent consultation on the Hargreaves proposals is expected in June.