This Copyright Bill Could Help Small Business Owners, Girl Talk, Service Members, and the Blind


From Mother Jones:

The bipartisan Unlocking Technology Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) on May 8, may be the compromise that privacy advocates have long desired. Instead of giving law enforcement more power to crack down on Internet users, the bill protects law-abiding Americans who modify the cell phones, computers and software that they own—a proposal that could help everyone from DJs to the visually impaired.

“For a blind person like me to read an e-book, that device has to be equipped with software that reads it to you,” says Mark Richert, director of public policy for the American Foundation for the Blind. “And the software that I use conflicts with a book’s copyright.” Right now, every three years, advocates for the visually impaired have to beg the Librarian of Congress to grant an exemption for their software—and Sina Khanifar, an activist on the issue and founder of the website, notes that the exemptions from the law only apply to individual users, not the companies that make screen readers. So as a result, companies are legally dissuaded from making this technology at all. Richert adds that authors who produce the content want everyone to buy the audio version of their books instead, but he says, “For me, using a screen reader is not exactly the same thing as paying to listen to Vincent Price read a novel.” This bill would make a permanent exemption for these kinds of readers.

The proposal would also protect people who remix copyrighted material, like documentary filmmakers, teachers, and DJs. A longstanding legal doctrine called fair use says it’s sometimes legal to use portions of copyrighted work for things like education, commentary, parody, and transformative art. But it’s often illegal to access the copyrighted work in the first place, because copyright protection has to be broken. Lofgren’s bill would fix that problem, too, by allowing Americans to bypass copyright protections for fair-use purposes—thus protecting a teacher who wanted to show a short clip of Iron Man 3 for a classroom discussion of Tony Stark’s ideology.

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