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Copyright and dyslexia

UK copyright law, the rights of the visually-impaired, and the implications for people with dyslexia. The Right to Read Campaign.

Many reading impaired people have difficulty reading normal black on white text with normal fluency, comfort and comprehension.

After the introduction, this article reads like a blog, with the more recent updates at the top.

From the dyslexia point of view there are two problems with UK copyright law:

  1. Since the passage of the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002, UK copyright law has contained an anomaly. The Act gave visually impaired people rights to have copyright texts converted so that they can read them as comfortably as possible, without needing to get permission from the publisher. Dyslexic people, however, although equally covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, were not included in the 2002 Act and so do not enjoy the same rights.This means that many dyslexic people waste a lot of time scanning text so that they can read it (using OCR and Text to Speech). And the organisations that create Talking Books and do other conversions for visually impaired people cannot serve those with other reading impairments and so have to discriminate against them.
  2. For visually impaired people, too, it is unnecessarily difficult and expensive to make these conversions. In most cases they must scan the text from the printed form. This is ridiculous because, in practically all cases today, the text was already in electronic form before it was printed. With proper tools and a little more care in the publication work flow process, this electronic text could be converted into a form suitable for reading-impaired people, at the press of a button. Publishers should be compelled to make an electronic version available to approved organisations, via a central electronic deposit.

March 2014

These are the slides for the update given by Ian Litterick at the BDA International Conference on March 28 2014. The position is expected to change imminently as the UK government publishes and implements the proposed legislative changes.

May 2010 - New Licence Introduced

On 28th May 2010 the Copyright Licencing Agency launched a new ‘Print Disability Licence’. The licence will enable organisations to reproduce copyright work in a format suitable for people with print disabilities; accessible formats will include audiobooks, large print or braille. This will now mean that dyslexia will be included as one of the covered disabilities. More information can be found at the Copyright Licensing Agency web site

August 2008

Good news on copyright!

The Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002 created a legal anomaly. The Act gave visually impaired people rights to have copyright texts converted so that they can read them, without needing to get permission from the publisher. Dyslexic people, however, although equally covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (D.D.A.), were not included in the 2002 Act. So you could scan a book to make an electronic version for a blind person without permission, but not for a dyslexic one. People making alternative formats for dyslexic people were breaking the law.

Since before the Act was passed, we have tried to get this discrimination removed and the law changed. After several false starts and disappointments, we started concentrating on the Copyright Licensing Agency (C.L.A.). The C.L.A. organises licences for librarians, schools, businesses etc – that is, most of the organisations that copy and make alternative accessible formats.

The C.L.A. is now at last changing the wording in its licences, in a clause that has been renamed VISUALLY IMPAIRED AND DISABLED PERSONS. It refers to the Disability Discrimination Act (D.D.A) for a definition of disabled people. So dyslexic and other reading impaired students are now covered if they are covered by the D.D.A. Any reading impairment that isn’t easily correctable (e.g. by glasses) must be covered.

This is all new, and has not yet been widely publicised. But it is good news and makes a change to the Act itself less urgent, though still ultimately necessary so that the law isn’t brought into disrepute by being seen to be unreasonable.

Update March 2007

The Gowers review was very disappointing from our point of view. It seemed to totally ignore practically all the inches thick electronic documents that it received from us and similar organisations, listed below. Did anybody read them? Why did we bother?

However, there will be revisions to the Copyright Act arising from the Review and we are in discussions with the Patent Office, who are responsible for Copyright legislation, and who are appearing to be responsive.

Most organisations which do copying and format shifting (libraries, colleges, organisations creating audio books for reading impaired people) do so under a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency. So we are also in discussions with the CLA with a view to changing the terms of the relevant CLA licences to be more inclusive. This could happen without any change in legislation.

At least the following of the 100s of organisations contributing to or making submissions to Gowers Review included or majored on calls for action on the issue (all the submissions are visible on the Gowers site):

  • RNIB;
  • Share The Vision;
  • Disability Rights Commission;
  • Right to Read Alliance — combining:   
    • Blind Centre for Northern Ireland;
    • British Dyslexia Association;
    • Calibre Audio Library;
    • Clearvision;
    • Confederation of Transcribed Information Services (COTIS);
    • Listening Books;
    • LOOK (The National Federation of Families with Visually Impaired Children);
    • National Association of Local Societies for Visually Impaired People;
    • National Blind Children’s Society;
    • National Federation of the Blind;
    • National League of the Blind and Disabled;
    • The National Library for the Blind;
    • RNIB;
    • Scottish Braille Press;
    • Scottish National Federation for the Welfare of the Blind;
    • Share the Vision;
    • Talking Newspaper Association of the UK (TNAUK);
    • Torch Trust for the Blind;
    • United Kingdom Association of Braille Producers.
  • The Accessible Friends Network National Library for the Blind;
  • National Library of Scotland;
  • LACA: the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance;
  • Communication Aids for Language and Learning Centre (Edinburgh University);
  • Society of College National and University Libraries;
  • Organisations representing the needs of people with reading impairments including dyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties:   
    • British Dyslexia Association;
    • Dyslexia Action;
    • iansyst Ltd/dyslexic.com;
    • The National Association of Disability Officers; (now the National Association of Disability Professionals);
    • The Adult Dyslexia Organisation (ADO);
    • Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education (ADSHE);
    • The National Network of Assessment Centres (UK) (NNAC).

Other organisations that have voiced concerns include:

  • CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals;
  • JISC Joint Information Systems Committee.

Update April 2006

The Gowers review is currently looking at the whole area of Intellectual Property policy for the government. iansyst, in conjunction with a number of other dyslexia and disability groups made a submission to the Gowers review about the copyright issue for dyslexic people. It refers to a similar one from the RNIB.

Update March 2005

Right to Read Campaign:

We very much support the Right to Read Campaign, R2R, which aims to overcome these problems. R2R is a group of organisations concerned with reading impaired people, including the BDA, and led by RNIB.

Visually Impaired and dyslexic people hand in the petition to number 10 Downing Street

The first phase of the Right to Read Campaign was based around the Right to Read Charter, which was handed in to Downing Street at the end of February.

Since then the Campaign has further embraced the needs of people with other reading disabilities apart from VI – ie it has become more “inclusive”. These organisations have said that they want to be inclusive and that the 2002 Act needs to be broadened:

  • The Right to Read Campaign steering group;
  • The Copyright Round Table – many of the same organisations, but with an interest specifically in copyright issues;
  • LACA, the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance – of major librarians’ organisations, the British Library, RNIB and others – lobbies on copyright matters. It is reviewing the working of the Copyright Act for its constituents and has put inclusiveness at the top of its list of supported changes.

Because the Campaign itself has limited resources – and these are provided disproportionately by RNIB – it has written to the Disability Rights Commission to suggest that the DRC should be the lead organisation in driving an update to the 2002 Act to cover other reading-impaired people.

People who want the Right to Read with a poster.

Meanwhile, as legislation takes time, the Campaign is also pursuing the voluntary approach. Most “approved organisations” who are converting materials to alternatives formats do so under a licence issued under the 2002 Act by the CLA which acts on behalf of authors and publishers. The nature of this licence is currently being reviewed. The approved organisations are negotiating to change the licence so that it allows appropriate format conversion for all reading impaired people.

But in the meantime the Act has so far actually made matters worse for those reading-impaired people whom it excludes. Both Calibre and the RNIB’s own Talking Books service, for example, have apparently stopped supplying talking books to people who they supplied before. After the 2002 Act they no longer have to get permission for each book from the publisher, so the extra costs of doing so for a dyslexic person make it economically impossible to do so.

The Right to Read Campaign is currently reviewing its objectives for the next period. It looks like it will add to the more global campaign goals some smaller, readily achievable objectives to remove specific technological and bureaucratic barriers.

Meanwhile, Listening Books, and their education offshoot Sound Learning continue to supply dyslexic people.

The MLA Council commissioned from Rightscom a feasibility study into the potential for publishers to provide their electronic files of books to agencies for people with visual disabilities. The report, (apparently no longer available - April 2007) made it clear that it would not be onerous for publishers routinely to send electronic versions (probably PDFs) of all their books to a repository as part of their normal workflow. From here they could be turned into the different accessible formats (Braille, audio, DAISY, large print) almost automatically, even using technology available today.

Visual Stress/Meares-Irlen Syndrome

A closer reading of the Act, plus new knowledge about visual stress, have convinced us that many dyslexic people – those who suffer from visual stress – are in fact visually impaired within the meaning of the 2002 Act, and so can benefit from it. This means that if you have been diagnosed by a behavioural optometrist, Irlen or similar or a coloured lens/coloured overlay practitioner, and prescribed tinted lenses or tinted overlays, we would consider that you can call yourself Visually Impaired within the meaning of the Act. For more information and the rationale behind this, see our Personal Accessible Text Converter’s Guide.

What other options do dyslexic people legally have today?

Let’s face it – although the law is unsatisfactory, it will probably not stop you scanning texts or having them scanned for you, if you need them.

  1. You can rely on the fair dealing provisions of copyright law.
  2. As a librarian you can rely on Library Privilege.
  3. You can get permission from the publisher.

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard:

Several states – 26 at the last count – in the USA have legislation that obliges publishers of school text books to make a digital version available. There have been attempts – so far unsuccessful – to enact Federal legislation which would extend this obligation over all states. At the moment different states may have different requirements for their digital format. This obviously makes life difficult for publishers. Whilst waiting for the federal legislation a group of disability experts have been working on a standard for a format designed to be universal. The resulting NIMAS standard has been formally endorsed by the US Department of Education. The format is based closely on the DAISY format (Digital Accessible Information SYstem), which many suppliers of alternative formats are starting to use as a standard.

The NIMAS report is well worth a skim, particularly the background section which gives a very good overview of the issues around digital accessible formats, including the copyright and intellectual property issues.

We need our own NIMAS in the UK. The best solution may well be to adopt the NIMAS format ourselves, lock stock and barrel, so that we can have an international standard and international cooperation on alternative formats. Economies of scale are too important to allow jingoism to rear its head.

We also need to wake up to the need for similar legislation to compel UK publishers of text books (not to mention any book) to provide a digital version for use by reading impaired people.

Update May 2004

In 2001 we made representations to the Copyright Directorate during the passage of the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Bill. The detailed arguments produced no results.

Ian Litterick gave a paper to the Sixth BDA International Conference in March 2004 outlining the issues and suggesting solutions. You can download the following documents:

  • The PowerPoint presentation on Text Access and Copyright (168KB):
  • Ian’s personal MindGenius concept map on which the presentation was based. This contains links to the relevant legislation and documents (UK, USA, Ireland), and relevant extracts and comments in the notes window. You can download the map; it comes complete with its own viewer (1.4MB).
  • Finally the MS Word document file exported from MindGenius (111KB). This contains all the same information in a linear form and should be more accessible if you are blind.


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