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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Filed Under: drm, rupert goodwins, visually impaired

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  1. identicon
    ShellMG, 28 Sep 2012 @ 9:59am

    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.

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