University Puts 20,000 Lectures Behind A Registration Wall In Response To DOJ Pressure On Website Accessibility Compliance
from the nobody-wins dept
Back in 2012, a federal court ruled US websites were "places of public accommodation." The ruling (overturned on appeal) came in a lawsuit brought against Netflix by the National Association of the Deaf. It seems like an obvious conclusion -- more people get their information, news, and entertainment from the web than other sources. But the ruling had plenty of adverse consequences, especially for smaller, less profitable purveyors of online content.
Professor Eric Goldman -- who analyzes a ton of internet-related lawsuits -- had this to say at the time:
If websites must comply with the ADA, all hell will break loose. Could YouTube be obligated to close-caption videos on the site? (This case seems to leave that door open.) Could every website using Flash have to redesign their sites for browsers that read the screen? I'm not creative enough to think of all the implications, but I can assure you that ADA plaintiffs' lawyers will have a long checklist of items worth suing over. Big companies may be able to afford the compliance and litigation costs, but the entry costs for new market participants could easily reach prohibitive levels.
The payoff of this lawsuit -- along with the federal government's requirements for making websites "accessible" -- is finally here. A California university is placing 20,000 audio and video lectures behind a registration wall, making them less accessible to everybody, rather than risk being sued for not making them "accessible" to those with disabilities.
The University of California, Berkeley, will cut off public access to tens of thousands of video lectures and podcasts in response to a U.S. Justice Department order that it make the educational content accessible to people with disabilities.
Today, the content is available to the public on YouTube, iTunes U and the university’s webcast.berkeley site. On March 15, the university will begin removing the more than 20,000 audio and video files from those platforms -- a process that will take three to five months -- and require users sign in with University of California credentials to view or listen to them.
This move has more to do with the DOJ's ADA*
accessibility stance, although that stance roughly aligns with the court's 2012 findings. The DOJ is named specifically in the university's statements as being the impetus for it locking up its past content. Future releases will be issued with an eye on compliance, but past lectures are gone for good unless you happen to have the right credentials to view them.
Then there's this part of the university's statement, which hints it may not all be related to accessibility-compliance.
Finally, moving our content behind authentication allows us to better protect instructor intellectual property from ‘pirates’ who have reused content for personal profit without consent.
I'm not sure how much of a problem Berkeley has had with content piracy. This statement could mean it's rampant or could simply mean it's something the university's lawyers have mentioned in passing as a concern. Either way, the move is related to control. What the public can't see, it can't complain about. And that keeps the DOJ at bay, even if it does little for the general public.
However, the piracy part of the statement might become relevant in the near future. It also shows the university's spokesperson isn't aware most of the lectures can't be "pirated." LBRY.io has already mirrored the 20,000 files due for removal, and it notes its move is compliant with the terms governing the sharing and distribution of the recorded lectures.
The vast majority of the lectures are licensed under a Creative Commons license that allows attributed, non-commercial redistribution. The price for this content has been set to free and all LBRY metadata attributes it to UC Berkeley.
The university may have a point about "personal profit," but simply hosting lectures at a site that sells stuff or makes money from ads isn't the same thing as "reusing content for personal profit." And the license the university uses doesn't require permission beforehand.
In the end, what we have is another regulation failure, where best laid plans become self-sabotaging debacles. Attempting to make the web universally-usable is an impossibility. No one's going out of their way to cut the deaf or blind out of the international conversation, but demanding all US sites be compliant with the DOJ's requirements is like demanding all books be made available in Braille and audio format. It's something only a few publishers can afford to do. Even fewer can afford to engage in a legal battle with the federal government over a lack of compliance, which means increased enforcement efforts will only result in less available content. That does nothing to level the playing field for Americans with disabilities.