Legal foundations of reading services in the U.S

See also the online discussion Why are non-radio reading services not in violation of copyright infringement in the U.S.?


These interpretations, both on the link above and in the sections below, are not coming from legal scholars; the authoritative text is the content of the laws cited above.

17 U.S. Code §110(8) - Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays

This is quite short so quoting it here in full (re-formatting and links mine):

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:
(8) performance of a non-dramatic literary work,

  • by or in the course of a transmission specifically designed for and primarily directed to blind or other handicapped persons who are unable to read normal printed material as a result of their handicap,

  • or deaf or other handicapped persons who are unable to hear the aural signals accompanying a transmission of visual signals,

  • if the performance is made without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and

  • its transmission is made through the facilities of:

17 U.S. Code §121 - Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction for blind or other people with disabilities

Reading services (such as Access News) may re-produce and distribute literary works in an accessible format without express permission from copyright owners, if

  • only eligible persons are able to access it
    (e.g., a blind person can listen to newspaper articles through a phone system where they have to register first and prove that they are legally blind)

  • there is a notice that further re-production and/or distribution is a copyright infringement
    (e.g., re-recording the playback of an article, and posting it online)

  • the name of the copyright owner and the date of the publication is clearly presented
    (e.g., when you are reading an article, you usually state which newspaper or magazine it is from, and when the article was published)

17 U.S. Code §121A - Limitations on exclusive rights: reproduction for blind or other people with disabilities in Marrakesh Treaty countries

This paragraph acknowledges the U.S. ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty which

provides for the exchange of accessible-format books across international borders by organizations that serve people who are blind, visually impaired, and print disabled.

“Copies” and “phonorecords”

§121 and §121A apply to “copies” and “phonorecords”, both of which are defined as “material objects” - but Access News only works with audio recordings, so how is this legal?

The short answer is that audio files qualify as material objects according to the U.S. copyright law.

The long answer is in this thread.

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Thanks for summarizing the legalese; I usually give up after attempting to read through these things (except when I have to read aloud such things for the benefit of clients and even in such cases, I don’t usually 100% understand what I’m saying to them–most of the time, they don’t care either and just want me to get to the end of the document so that they can either agree or acknowledge the documents to get on to the next step of our conversations)…

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