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Non-profit CEO fears SOPA's affect on the disabled

Written by Rich Fiscus (Google+) @ 06 Dec 2011 10:34 User comments (2)

Non-profit CEO fears SOPA's affect on the disabled While supporters of SOPA, the US Internet censorship bill claiming to be aimed at combating online piracy, the reality is it would cast a wide net and make it significantly more difficult and expensive for many legitimate online services to operate.
One such service is Bookshare, an online library for people with various visual and reading disabilities, ranging from blindness to dyslexia. Bookshare provides unlimited access to specialized ebooks which can be translated into spoken words, Braille, or large print using various software and hardware.

The service is intended to fill a gap in many commercial products, which are designed specifically to disallow such conversions as a result of demands from publishers and authors preoccupied with piracy and performance royalties.

Bookshare is a completely legal service thanks to a specific provision in US Copyright law, found in Section 121, also known as the Chafee Amendment:

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies or phonorecords of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.


Benetech, the non-profit organization which runs Bookshare, is a textbook example of an "authorized entity" as referenced in the law.

So if the service is completely legal and non-infringing, they have nothing to fear from SOPA, or at least that's what the bill's sponsors and defenders would have you believe. According to Benetech founder and CEO Jim Fruchterman that's not true at all.

In a blog post last week, Fruchterman explained why he is very afraid of SOPA. His concerns revolve around accusations of copyright infringement Bookshare routinely receives from authors and publishers who are ignorant of Section 121 exemptions.

Under current law, those complaints may be received in the form of cease and decist letters or DMCA takedowns, either of which are relatively easily resolved. Under SOPA those same complaints could be made directly to VISA and MasterCard, resulting in donations to Benetech being cut off based on a completely baseless accusation.

Fruchterman wrote:

SOPA apparently has shoot first, ask questions later provisions. If any single publisher or author of any one of the more than 130,000 accessible books in our library gets antsy, they can send a notice to VISA and MasterCard and say, stop money from going to Benetech and Bookshare. No more donations to our charity. No more subscriptions from individual adults with disabilities.

No need to send us a letter. Or file a DMCA notice. Or do any real research. Just send out a bunch of notices and get all those pirates! Except, we?re not pirates. But, now the burden of proof has shifted to us: we?re presumed guilty, and we have to spent time and money defending ourselves. Sounds kind of un-American, doesn?t it?

Now, apparently, we can file a counter-notice. But, my guess is that the credit card guys are going to play it safe and stay away from turning ?pirates? back on, and we?d end up in court arguing to be able to get our ability to receive funds for our socially beneficial work, not only to help people with disabilities but also our work to help environmental and human rights groups.

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2 user comments

16.12.2011 23:28

Ahhh...The law of unintended consequences is always lerking behind legislation like SOPA, Protect IP and stupid laws like these.

213.12.2011 17:41

Originally posted by Semperfipal:
Ahhh...The law of unintended consequences is always lerking behind legislation like SOPA, Protect IP and stupid laws like these.
I don't believe these are unintended consequences. The Media Mafia know full well this is going to hinder all of their competitors. When you can't compete, cheat, and force those with working business models to conform to what your lobbyists dictate.

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