Why Everyone Should Care About DRM's Punishment Of The Visually Impaired

from the our-problem-too dept

Techdirt writes a lot about the problems with DRM, and how inefficient and inconvenient it is. But for millions of visually-impaired people, those “inconveniences” represent something much deeper, and much worse. Somebody who has started writing eloquently about this issue is Rupert Goodwins. He is one of the UK’s most respected technology journalists and also, sadly, is losing his sight. As he points out in a powerful new piece, things ought to be getting better for the visually impaired in the Internet age:

there’s never been a better time to go blind: we are busy converting the world to digital, and digital is supremely easy to convert.

Of course, it hasn’t worked out like that, thanks to the widespread use of DRM on ebooks:

With DRM, the commercial model of the provider goes beyond an application or a service. It is designed to constrain the customer to using something in only the way approved by the content provider, and it has legal backing.

If I can’t use a particular word processor, I can find another. But if I can’t read a particular book because it is only readable on a particular platform and that platform isn’t readable to me, I’m stuck.

He goes on to describe his attempts to get an ebook he had bought into a form that he could read. After half an hour of fruitless efforts — which included receiving some rather ironic marketing messages telling him to “enjoy the experience” and “enjoy your book” — he did what most people would have done at the start: he cracked the DRM. As he points out:

I dare say this is against the terms and conditions of one or more of the many impossible-to-read EULAs I clicked on in the process of trying to be a responsible digital consumer. But the author got paid and nobody lost out — except for me, in terms of time lost and mental misery endured.

He also mentions something important that everyone working at companies employing DRM might like to consider:

This is the reward you get for being disabled and wanting to do the right thing. This is how the world’s most splendid machine for freeing our minds from our physical shackles is itself being shackled. This is what will happen to all of you reading this as you get old. I know this, I’ve done the research: most of you will start to go blind before you die.

Ultimately, then, DRM is a problem for all of us. Maybe we should fix it sooner, rather than later, so that people like Goodwins can read the books they have bought without resorting to methods that are illegal, and we can read texts when we’re old and increasingly blind ourselves.

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Comments on “Why Everyone Should Care About DRM's Punishment Of The Visually Impaired”

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37 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Just because you don’t like the law doesn’t mean you get to break the law. So what if you’re blind? Respect the law, and do the right thing by not consuming the content. If it’s locked up, it’s locked up for a reason.

Blind people breaking the law are wrong. This guy, who publicly states that he broke the law, should go to jail or be fined millions of dollars.

The law is the law. If you don’t like it then change it. Being blind is no excuse.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just because you don’t like the law doesn’t mean you get to break the law. So what if you’re being taxed without representation? Respect the law, and do the right thing by paying the taxes. If you’re being taxed, you’re being taxed for a reason.

Taxpayers breaking the law are wrong. This guy, who publicly states that he wants representation, should go to jail or be fined millions of dollars.

—-

Just because you don’t like the law doesn’t mean you get to break the law. So what if you’re being enslaved? Respect the law, and do the right thing by serving your master. If you’re enslaved, you’re being enslaved for a reason.

Slaves breaking the law are wrong. This guy, who publicly states that he wants to be a free man, should go to jail or be fined millions of dollars.

/Hoping I’m continuing the intended absurdity
//If not, hoping the OP is just a troll
///Oh please don’t let the OP be serious

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, I knew the comparison was not nearly the same (“not quite the same” being a bit of an understatement), but I’m glad you got my point. Perhaps I should have taken the time to find a more equivalent case of breaking the law not being a bad thing. How about this:

Just because you don’t like the law doesn’t mean you get to break the law. So what if you can’t sell shave-ice? Respect the law, and do the right thing by buying something else. If shave-ice is illegal during certain parts of the year, it’s illegal for a reason.

Shave-ice lovers breaking the law are wrong. This guy, who publicly states that he sells shave-ice in January, should go to jail or be fined millions of dollars.

sehlat (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The law is an artificial construct. A machine written in code. It is a very badly implemented machine written by greedy and selfish people for their own purposes and to hell with the rest of us. It is certainly not some holy tablet handed down by Moses, me lad.

Civil disobedience has been correctly summarized by Thomas Jefferson: “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“The law is the law. If you don’t like it then change it. Being blind is no excuse.”

You know I am willing to bet around 90% of the people who come here regularly would be more than happy to change the law. Sadly it seems us consumers are not really worth paying any attention to.

Now as for this “This guy, who publicly states that he broke the law, should go to jail or be fined millions of dollars.” Well, he will have good company, because we have other laws we need to enforce against people bragging. How about we toss Obama in with him. I seem to remember Obama saying he tried some drugs…. We can also toss in most rap singers, actors, actresses, and politicians.

Take a look around at this disgusting government, there are tons of laws on the books being ignored all the time. Most only enforced when the government is out to throw someone under the buss for saying something wrong.

Richard Tietjens (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As both a published software author and an avid legal consumer of digital content, I find your expressed attitude both disgusting and reprehensible. Furthermore, you make it plain from the fact you post as anonymous coward that you are a paid spammer for the RIAA/MPAA/Publisher’s Association.

Laws come into being these days because special interest groups write them, and then pay bribes (aka “campaign fund donations”) to legislators to get them passed. That does not make said laws moral nor ethical. It has not be all that long since it was legal for a White male to imprison a human being and force him or her to work and live in appalling conditions until he or she was sold, or died – or was killed, legally, by the “slave owner.”

Opposing immoral laws, and disobeying them; working to change them; that is the right, nay, the *DUTY* of every person of good conscience.

I reject the laws favoring the business model of buggy-whips manufacturers, and look forward to the possible future in which content creators are rewarded for producing good content, rather than content publishers being rewarded for marketing any content, good or bad, with no legal recourse for consumers who find it of little value, or even unusable, after the purchase is made.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m rather of the opinion that copyright law ought to state that you can have a copyright or you can have DRM. If you want the government to enforce your monopoly, you can’t have DRM. If you want DRM, then you can attempt to enforce your own monopoly that way and have no need for the government, courts, etc. I can’t imagine DRM would last very long.

ShellMG says:

This is a huge opportunity going completely missed.

As my presbyopia worsens as I age, I don’t know what I’d do without my iPad and the Kindle/iBook/Nook apps. While I miss the feel and smell (yes, I love ink and paper) of dead tree books, I greatly appreciate the convenience and options ebooks offer.

There’s a following of audio books, so what if these publishers made a deal with the author or hire a celebrity/actor to create a version you can download with the book? Make it a premium if necessary! How many would download a re-release of “Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone” if you could bundle it with an Audiobook narrated by Daniel Radcliffe, JK Rowling or even Emma Stone? It could be enjoyed by every one, including the visually impaired. They could partner with organizations and charities, market the product as “blind friendly” and sell it either with our without a standard ebook version.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

I have been an advocate of ADA issues even before there was an ADA act. I actually gave my first speech on open access in 1971.

My long-term assertion about ADA issues is that making things accessible for people with disabilities usually makes life better for everyone. That assertion applies in this case. Getting rid of DRM would help the blind. In the process it would also help everyone else.

A temporary band-aid solution would be to require everyone who produces a DRM’ed device to also produce an array of devices for vision impairments. So they would have to produce versions Braile version, a talking version, large print, high contrast, and various types of color blindedness. Of course, that would be a huge expense for anyone producing a device that imposes DRM. Perhaps then the providers would understand the huge cost they are imposing on the rest of society.

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