Trouble with listen-up

Sina Bahram sbahram at
Fri Feb 11 10:06:10 EST 2005

Good info, thank you

Take care,

-----Original Message-----
From: speakup-bounces at [mailto:speakup-bounces at]
On Behalf Of Janina Sajka
Sent: Friday, February 11, 2005 9:46 AM
To: Speakup is a screen review system for Linux.
Subject: Re: Trouble with listen-up

Hi, Sina:

Sina Bahram writes:
> Hi Janina,
> I forgot to separate out those sentences ... Not been getting a ton of 
> sleep lately, sorry.

OK. I understand that. Email can certainly be tough that way--without the
voice inflection, etc.

> Let me rephrase
> Since it's easy enough to crack, if someone does decide to do so, then 
> said person distributes binaries, does that violate any laws.

The question is "distribute to who?" In the U.S. at least, the "to who"
part makes all the difference. In other words, the answer might be "yes,"
and it might be "no," depending on who the recipient of distribution is.

Now, I must say again that I'm not a lawyer. However, I have been an active
advocate on this issue during my years with AFB. The recent Library of
Congress decision regarding the DMCA was my advocacy, and it directly
addresses this issue. Let me lay out the essential facts for

In 1976 the U.S. Congress amended U.S. Copyright law. As is customary
various committees of Congress wrote reports during that process. Those
reports help the courts determine exactly what Congress was thinking.
That's important because a House of Representatives committee wrote that
nothing in the new copyright law could be construed to make it illegal to
make a work accessible to a blind person, and that a blind person could do
for themselves, or someone else could do for them the act of making a book
accessible. In 1976 the language was "phonograph recording," but it's the
principle that's important in law, not the specific medium referred to.

The U.S. Supreme Court relied on exactly this report language in the famous
beta max case in the 1980's. Basically, the movie industry had tried to make
VCR taping of TV shows illegal. The Supreme Court told them to go fly a
kite, and the Court's reasoning relied, in part, on the House report and the
specific paragraph about blind people's accessibility. Maybe we should
remind Blockbuster the next time we need a project funded--but I diagress.

Now, the 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) went further than any
copyright law before. It made the very act of unencrypting something without
permission illegal, and it made the tool you might use to decrypt illegal.
Very nasty. Fortunately, the DMCA requires a review every three years to
make sure that the new rules aren't preventing people from having legitimate
access. During the review period in 2003 AFB argued that there were ebook
titles being produced that prevented blind people's access just because they
were encrypted in ways we weren't being allowed to unlock. One example we
presented was a Microsoft Reader edition of a best seller from the Fifteenth
Century. We presented a screen shot of the message about how you couldn't
read this book with speech, and we pointed out that you actually had to pay
money for this book to even find out whether you would, or would not, be
able to read it with speech.

Therefore, we received a ruling from the Librarian of Congress that exempts,
for three years, blind people from the strictures against cracking
titles--but only if they're not available in another format.

So, is it legal? Possibly? If you crack something for yourself, or for some
blind person that isn't available in accessible format, it's legal.

Can you then distribute this to anyone and everyone? Absolutely not. Can you
generally make it available in a catalog? Only if you're an nationally
recognized organization in business of making such things generally
available. This last point refers to a different piece of copyright law
called the Chafee Amendment and is the law that NLS and RFBD use to get
books out faster. They used to have to ask permission for every book they
produced. Since Chafee they don't need to ask.

Here are some links:

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