The American Foundation for the Blind was pleased to learn that the Librarian of Congress had approved the US Copyright Office’s recommendation to exempt certain classes of works from copyright restrictions to improve access to those works by people who are blind or visually impaired. Every three years, the Copyright Office conducts a rulemaking procedure to determine which classes of works should be exempt from the "prohibition on circumvention of copyright protection systems for access control technologies." In general, these access control technologies are any technologies designed to protect the copyright on a given work, such as an e-book, motion picture, or software program.
Under Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), enacted in 1998, circumventing these access control technologies is prohibited, even for otherwise lawful uses. However, every three years since then, AFB and partner organizations—including the American Council of the Blind, the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic, and the Library Copyright Alliance—have had to petition the Copyright Office to provide an exemption to this prohibition to allow people with vision loss to read protected e-books using assistive technology.
We are excited to hear that, once again, the Copyright Office approved our petition. In addition, it granted a new exemption allowing educational institutions to circumvent copyright protections to provide students audio description on motion pictures that are unavailable without that feature. While we celebrate these opportunities and the ways that the copyright office has made it easier to apply for exemption in the past few years, we continue to believe that people with vision loss should not have to fight for the right to read or access course materials on an equal basis as their peers. So, yet again, we urge Congress to relieve people with disabilities of the burden of seeking approval for access to copyrighted books, movies, music, software, and more.