What the blind can do that you can’t: Crack DRMed e-books without risking jail

DRM protestMy buddy David Faucheux lost his eyesight decades ago but still managed to get a library science degree and start up a fine audio blog full of book reviews and commentary. Problem is, e-books tend to be useless to David. You know why: DRM—so often the enemy of text-to-speech readers for the blind.

Now this just might be about to change, with the Library of Congress letting blind people bypass DRM when “all existing ebook editions of the work” contain it. Read the nuances in a ruling from James Billington, Librarian of Congress.

So how long until Congress also allows us sighted folks to crack DRM for backup purposes or conversions into other formats? Imagine all the thousands of dollars people have invested in, say, DRMed Adobe books—only to see them useless on a Sony Reader or whatever is the proprietary format du jour. Obnoxious, proprietary DRM is one of the great hazards for the e-book industry, and those hazmat suits in the photo from a protest are entirely appropriate.

The new LOC decision also contained other DMCA exemptions in areas ranging from education to computer games, where obsolete formats abound. Notice that last one? Mightn’t the same concept apply someday to e-books? I hope so.

Related: Engadget, MAKE Magazine, Slashdot, EFF, Public Knowledge and Phil Morle’s blog (via TechMeme).

1 Comment on What the blind can do that you can’t: Crack DRMed e-books without risking jail

  1. And they also took an existing exemption back. Which is exactly the problem with the DMCA and the way the Library of Congress is interpreting. So three years from now, they could just arbitrarily change their minds about letting blind people hack the DRM.

    One thing I’m curious about is how this affects the tools for cracking DRM. There are currently illegal but easy to obtain tools for cracking, say, Microsoft DRMed .lit files. If the only version of the book is a Microsoft DRMed .lit file, then a blind person can crack that DRM in order to create a read-aloud version.

    But in order to do so they need a tool to do so. Are circumvention tools suddenly legal to produce provided they only are sold to blind people?

Leave a Reply

wordpress analytics