The Digital Rights Management Debate
AltFormat.org discusses the Pros and Cons of the use of Digital Rights Management tools
Digital Rights Management (DRM) refers to access controls implemented to protect the rights of copyright holder's content. DRM is used to describe any technology which restricts the ability to make unauthorised use of such digital content. This article will introduce the concept of DRM, referring to the need for such tools to be used, and also the problems that the implementation of DRM tools have for visually impaired and dyslexic readers.
Why is DRM needed?
In short, DRM is required to protect the copyright of author's content. Although from a distance, the publishing business seems like a pretty simple game, legislative inconsistencies create a situation whereby content is to be protected from copyright, but also accessible to visually impaired and dyslexic readers.
To help promote and distribute content, authors' enter contracts with publishers, who then hold the legal rights to distribute author's work. As part of this contract, publishers are also contractually obliged through copyright legislation to protect the content as the author's Intellectual Property. In the UK, the current legislation outlined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988) ensures the owner of the copyright can derive financial benefit relating to their material and have control over the way in which their material is used.
However, the advent of digital media and digital conversion technologies has vastly increased the concerns of copyright-dependent authors and publishers, who fear their work will be illegally reproduced and redistributed. As such, alternative format e-books, read either on a PC or an e-book reader, typically use DRM restrictions to limit the copying, printing, and sharing of e-books.
This DRM typically restricts users' access to e-books. For instance, when viewing a highly restricted e-book with Adobe Acrobat e-book reader 6.0, the reader is unable to print the book, copy or paste selections of the text. This level of restriction is specified by the publisher or distribution agency once accepted by the author.
Here's where the situation gets complicated however. Additional legislation, the Copyright Visually Impaired Persons Act (2002), which has since been extended to cover dyslexic readers, provides a legal right to make an accessible copy of the materials for visually impaired and dyslexic persons. As such, on the one hand end users are legally entitled to create an accessible version of inaccessible materials, but on the other hand publishers are striving to protect the content from copyright infringements by adding DRM tools. These conflicting legislative grounds are creating a confusing situation to what is a fundamental right of every individual; the right to read.
Is Digital Rights Management restricting accessibility?
Adding to the conflicting legislative grounds are that the DRM tools built into e-book readers to protect the rights of authors and publishers can limit the accessibility of the e-book to assistive technology users, including visually impaired and dyslexic readers, who cannot access standard print.
One such way that DRM tools are restricting the accessibility of e-books is that DRM protected e-books often classify assistive technology (such as screen readers) as illicit. As such, the protected e-books often disable the use of screen readers, meaning the user cannot interact with, and therefore cannot access the e-book.
Therefore, an unfortunate trade-off exists between accessibility and digital rights management. Publishers commit to making reasonable efforts to prevent the unauthorised use of authors' content, and this means making use of the DRM controls available. However, these DRM tools impact on the accessibility of the content, and can restrict the creation of accessible versions of the content also.
Looking for an accessible solution
A solution to allow assistive technology users' full access to e-books is urgently required, and as soon as possible. Without a solution to hand, altformat.org suggests that cooperation between the copyright holders and access technology manufacturers should be the first point of call to get the accessibility ball rolling.