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Request for Input on DRM and eBooks for the Disabled
Monday, November 28 2005 @ 10:49 AM EST

I got an email from Kevin Sesock, who works at Oklahoma State Univeristy in the Student Disability Services department. He'd like to pick your brain. There is a DRM solution called DAISY, and he wonders what you think of it. He has very specific questions at the end of the email, which I produce now, and I hope you'll help him find answers. On the DAISY website, there is this explanation:
The acronym stands for Digital Accessible Information SYstem. Often, the term is used to refer to a standard for producing accessible and navigable multimedia documents. In current practice, these documents are Digital Talking Books, digital text books, or a combination of synchronised audio and text books.

DAISY is a globally recognized technical standard to facilitate the creation of accessible content. The standard was originally developed to benefit people who are unable to read print due to a disability, but it also has broad applications for improved access to text in the mainstream. . . .

Using the DAISY standard, content creators, such as a library serving people who are blind or visually impaired or a book publisher can produce accessible and navigable books to meet a variety of reading needs. In general, organizations can:

  • Produce a Digital Talking Book (DTB) that enables a person to navigate through it in a way comparable to how a print book would be used. For example, readers can examine the book by page, section, or chapter, or use a table of contents or an index. In general, this goal may be accomplished by creating a structured text file integrated with a human-narrated audio file.

  • Synchronize an electronic text file with an audio file to provide readers with the choice to examine the text and/or listen to the audio version of it.
  • Generate an electronic braille file from the electronic text used to create the DAISY book.
  • Produce a structured digital ''text-only'' document which can be read with a DAISY software player in combination with a braille display or speech syntesizer.

So that's what it does. The Working Group has set December 2005 as a deadline for completion of the DAISY DRM system design specification, so there is still time for meaningful input.

One thing I notice is that on that same page, it says "All intellectual property used by the DRM system should be licensable free or at a reasonable cost so as not to place undue cost burdens on distributors. RAND stands for “reasonable and non-discriminatory” and refers to licensing terms."

I wonder if the DAISY folks know that RAND licensing terms are a problem for FOSS, being specifically incompatible with the General Public License, the license that Linux is offered under? So, if those are the licensing terms for this standard, it would mean, I believe, that Linux can't use the standard, just like in the SenderID flap. Yet, you'll see that the working group have specified that DAISY "Should be implementable in an open-source playback system," so they are not hostile to FOSS. Unfortunately, something can be designated a "standard" without being open to all. This may be an educational opportunity. I'll let Kevin tell you the rest.


I am the Assistive Technology Specialist at Oklahoma State University. I've been following DAISY, a standard designed to provide electronic text to persons with print disabilities (blindness, low-vision, cognitive and learning disabilities), and I discovered today that the DRM Working Group of the DAISY Consortium has come out with its System Requirements Draft and is asking for comments from the public.

Ultimately, my goal as a service provider is to ensure access to persons with disabilities. Part of that access involves accessible electronic books, and from what I understand, publishers and some copyright holders are concerned about providing books in electronic formats that are completely unprotected, opening the doors for piracy. I believe that a form of protection, be it DAISY DRM or any other, will remove the cause of this concern and hopefully the last roadblock the publishers may have to providing as many books as possible in electronic/accessible formats. Right now, there are far too few accessible electronic texts available, and this needs to change.

The questions and concerns I have with DAISY DRM are the same with any other standard affecting access. I don't believe the keys to an accessible electronic book format can work without allowing for open source solutions and being a completely open standard. I believe that industry standardized and open encryption schemes are necessary to prevent security through obscurity. I know that privacy must be addressed, as well as the potential revelation of personal data.

Each of these pieces fits together to provide access that is workable for every party, from end user to publisher, and I hope the community can help comment on the most successful standards, or if the DAISY DRM implementation truly succeeds. While the DAISY DRM standards touch on some of the pieces I mentioned, is it enough, or maybe too much?

Is DRM even a viable solution? How is DRM relevant or appropriate to DAISY and to accessible e-books in general? Ultimately, my question revolves around what will provide the most access to the most people, and to achieve that, a lot of voices in the community should speak up to find a best solution to fit all parties. My hope is that the community will realize the need and help to provide access that meets the above needs, either by offering advice to the working group, or creating standards that do work.


Information on how to submit comments to the working group:

General information about the DAISY format itself:

Again, thank you for and to the GL site and community.

Kevin A. Sesock, A+, NET+, CNA, MCSA
Assistive Technology Specialist
Student Disability Services
Division of Student Affairs
Oklahoma State University

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