Accessible Formats and Fair Use

In this Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week post, one of a series of posts from UA Libraries and UA campus community bloggers, Academic Technologies Instruction Librarian Melissa Green discusses access to copyrighted works for persons with disabilities made possible under provisions of sections 121 and 107 of the Copyright Act.

For more information about fair use and fair dealing, visit the Fair Use Week website or search the hashtag #FairUseWeek2016.

The making and provision of copies of materials in formats accessible to persons with disabilities is addressed in two sections of the Copyright Act of 1976 that governs U.S. copyright law.

Section 121, also known as the Chafee Amendment, allows authorized entities to create accessible versions of copyrighted works and distribute them to people with qualifying disabilities without having to obtain permission from or pay royalties to the copyright holder. The Chafee Amendment defines an authorized entity as “a nonprofit organization or a governmental agency that has a primary mission to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities.” Such authorized entities include the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Bookshare, and Learning Ally.

The Chafee Amendment is key in providing access to information for people with disabilities; however, its scope is limited to published nondramatic literary works, and there are readers with other print disabilities that benefit from accessible formats (ARL; AHEAD). Also, while many believe colleges and universities (and especially their disability services offices) should be considered “authorized entities” under Chafee, they have not been explicitly recognized as such. Luckily, fair use fills in the gaps.

The Fifth Principle of the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries details the circumstances in which making and providing copies of materials in accessible formats constitutes fair use:

When fully accessible copies are not readily available from commercial sources, it is fair use for a library to (1) reproduce materials in its collection in accessible formats for the disabled upon request, and (2) retain those reproductions for use in meeting subsequent requests from qualified patrons.

These formats may include DAISY talking books or other digital audio files (MP3, etc.), braille, large print, special formats for math and music (like those produced by the braille music editing software in our music library), and accessible EPUB, PDF, and Word document files. An overview of how these files are typically produced can be found in Colorado State University’s E-Text: An Introduction to Alternative Format.

Accessible formats are necessary for the one in five U.S. adults with a disability, but they offer benefits to everyone; accessible content is generally more discoverable, searchable, and usable. Fair use is an essential tool for colleges and universities committed to making information accessible to all.

Featured image: By Photograph taken by friend; all rights transferred to User:Mdd4696 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

2 thoughts on “Accessible Formats and Fair Use

  1. Pingback: Roundup from Day 2 of Fair Use Week 2016 | Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week

  2. Pingback: Roundup from Day 2 of Fair Use Week 2016 | ARL Policy Notes

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