Under US copyright law, blind and otherwise print impaired individuals have an exemption that permits distribution of the content of print materials in a format accessible to people with these disabilities. This exemption permits NLS, RFB&D and Bookshare, among others, to produce the materials they distribute.
I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, so my reading of the law is purely from an amateur perspective. But, when I look at the language in the exemption, I do not see any text that requires producers and distributors of such materials to go through an onerous process to ensure that the rights of publishers are protected.
As digital formats provide a much more convenient and feature rich way of delivering materials to people with vision impairment, the Internet functions as the most convenient manner of distribution. Of course, nothing frightens the publishing industry more than the thought that people could access their entire body of intellectual property from any computer attached to the net. To this end, the publishing industry insists on very tightly constrained licensing agreements with those who would provide written materials to those of us with vision impairment.
So, today, a blind person needs to provide proof of blindness in order to access web based written materials which fall under some publishing company’s copyright. Thus, the more than one million books scanned by google for books.google.com are not available to us blinks. The Bookshare catalogue of 35,000 books in Daisy or Braille formats provides a good start but, recently, I wanted to read a book about the language of an ancient civilization which happens to appear in the google collection but is unlikely to ever show up in Bookshare as I probably represent 100% of the blind people who would care to read this book.
This brings me to the question of proof of blindness and the question of why publishers receive greater online protections than do children. Specifically, why can virtually anyone go to a site that contains pornographic material and simply click on a link or button that says, “I swear I am at least 18 years old” and go right into a web site that demeans women or gay men, shows violent sexual acts, distorts the reality of human sexuality and certainly does nothing to advance the education of our children and may, in fact, cause our kids to learn some truly horrible concepts and believe some truly horrible things as they mature into adults.
Do not get me wrong, I do not recommend censorship in any way. I never found much pleasure in pornography, even when I was young and sighted, as I always thought of sex as something one participates in rather than watches other people do. I think that adults who want to look at such things have every right to do so and I think publishers of such material have the right to sell their products.
I just question why any twelve year old who has just learned to masturbate can access pornography with a single click as proof of age but I, as a blind person, have to go through a bit of paperwork to prove to our friends at Bookshare that, indeed, I am blind and, even though google has books I would like to read and even though my blindness gives me the right to the exemption to the copyright law, protecting publishers intellectual property trumps my access to the library being assembled by google.
I think most Americans agree that keeping pornography from our kids is a good thing. Likewise, I think most also agree that blinks should have access to books. Why, then, is it so easy for a kid to circumvent the age restrictions on smut but so difficult and often impossible for we blinks to gain access to the vast majority of digitized books on the web?