DRM has the potential to impede access for all Canadians, however, one group may be particularly hard hit by widespread DRM use and anti-circumvention legislation. Those with print disabilities (called perceptual disabilities in the Copyright Act) rely on new voice technologies to gain access to works that they are physically unable to view. DRM can be used to limit or eliminate the use of technologies to read text aloud, thereby rendering it inaccessible for a segment of the population. Indeed, for those that think this is a mere fairy tale, one of the better known instances of "read aloud" restrictions involved the Adobe eReader, which restricted the reading aloud function for Alice in Wonderland (the same technology was later at the heart of the Dmitry Sklyarov case).
The Copyright Act contains a specific provision to address access for the print disabled. Section 32(1) provides that:
It is not an infringement of copyright for a person, at the request of a person with a perceptual disability, or for a non-profit organization acting for his or her benefit, to
(b) translate, adapt or reproduce in sign language a literary or dramatic work, other than a cinematographic work, in a format specially designed for persons with a perceptual disability; or
(c) perform in public a literary or dramatic work, other than a cinematographic work, in sign language, either live or in a format specially designed for persons with a perceptual disability.
This provision is subject to two conditions: it does not authorize the making of large print books and does not apply "where the work or sound recording is commercially available in a format specially designed to meet the needs of [the perceptually disabled.]"
The government should do at least three things to address this issue. First, it should ensure that the Section 32(1) exception is not undermined by anti-circumvention legislation by providing a clear right of circumvention under the same conditions as currently found in the Act. Second, to the extent that the legislation addresses devices that can be used to circumvent (an issue that I will address before this series concludes), there should be an exception made for devices that can be used to give effect to this provision. Third, the government should take the opportunity to revisit Section 32(1) to determine whether it should be expanded. Reading the committee transcripts when this provision was debated is guaranteed to elicit genuine anger as the copyright lobby vehemently opposed any exceptions for the print disabled. Given the technological advances in the area, the time has come to correct that wrong by expanding the personal rights of access for the print disabled and ensuring that those rights are not diminished by anti-circumvention legislation.