The anti DRM day is coming

DRM Blast e-mail from defective by design:

“It’s two days before the International Day Against DRM and our community is kicking into gear. We’ll come together as a strong movement and we’ll make sure the world hears our message: Digital Restrictions Management is wrong, and we will not sit idly by while it’s imposed on us.

DRM is especially bad for those of us that face additional hurdles using computers. It’s beastly for blind people, who are dependent on an audiobook market heavily laden with DRM. Today in the lead up to the Day, we’re proud to feature a guest post about the problems DRM causes for people using the US National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, written by two blind anti-DRM activists. You can read the post at the bottom of this email or online.

Defective by Design and the writers of this post want it to be a rallying cry to show people how oppressive DRM really is and build momentum for the big day on Wednesday. Read it below or online and share it on social media with the hashtag #DayAgainstDRM.

If this gets you pumped up, you should also join us at an International Day Against DRM event. There is a list of currently planned events in eight countries on the LibrePlanet wiki.

To chat about DRM and organizing against it, join us on Defective by Design’s #dbd Freenode IRC channel and email discussion list.

Now without further ado:

DRM: Disabling the disabled

This is a guest post by Storm Dragon and Kyle (co-writer), two blind anti-DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) activists. It focuses on the problems facing blind readers in the US, but much of it is applicable to other countries as well.

DRM affects almost everyone on a daily basis, but in the blind community, it is a problem of epic proportions. Usually when people want something to read, they go to a library, pick up a book and check it out. Blind people in the US can use the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in almost the same way — except for one major difference: coming from the NLSBPH, books are usually audiobooks stored in a specialized format encumbered with DRM.

The DRM restricts the books so that they can only play on specialized hardware: a rather large and cumbersome device provided by the library, or other specialized players that are extremely overpriced, starting at around $350 to $400 USD. If you want to listen to the book on your computer, your digital audio player or your Android smartphone, too bad; even though the stated intent of the DRM is to prevent non-blind people from using the NSLBPH’s books, it actually prevents any attempt by blind people to use them on unsanctioned devices. A notable exception is Apple products, which allow sharing between devices, but only at the unacceptable cost of using particularly restrictive proprietary operating systems.

Attempting to read an audiobook from the NLSBPH in the US is comparable to going to the library and sitting down with a good book, only to find out that reading it requires a licensed pair of glasses produced by about two to three vendors, available at checkout or purchased at a premium from authorized dealers.

DRM not only affects the accessibility of material to people with visual impairment, but also places an undue burden on the tax payer, whose money the government uses to design the NSLBPH’s needless DRM constraints. This tax money could be much better spent providing off-the-shelf players with free software installed on them, which would be capable of playing audiobooks in more compact formats, such as the Opus audio standard. Such free players could even be adapted to read a new generation of time-indexed markup, which would allow skipping backward and forward through a book by multiple levels of divisions like sentences and chapters. This level of control over the reading experience, widely available to sighted people, is still mostly out of reach for the blind.

As a blind reader, I have had my own moral struggle with the problem of digital restrictions on the books I read. At this point, my only choices are to read books from LibriVox, which has a large selection, but has very little new literature, or to find more questionable ways of obtaining books that do not suffer from restrictions that keep me from reading them. Out of these choices, LibriVox is definitely the better option, even though it limits my selection of books to those that are in the public domain, or otherwise have no copyright restrictions of any kind. Although no copyright restrictions would be the ideal state of things for me, the fact remains that there are still very few new entries into the public domain, and is not likely to change any time soon. So any time someone tells me that they read a really good book, I end up having to tell them that I am unable to read it, because although I have access to the file, it limits my ability to play it on the device I want to use, undercutting my freedom to read it.

Because digital restrictions are especially hard on people with disabilities, I would urge everyone in the US to contact the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and their senators and representatives, to make them aware of the seriousness of the problem.

The US library is not the only one that suffers from these problems. I encourage anyone in any other country to find out what restrictions are on books that local blind and visually impaired people read. If they have the same digital restrictions, attempt to have laws changed in your country as well, “that all may read,” as the US library so eloquently, but currently falsely, states it.”

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