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27/10/2021 20:36:53  

Advocates will once again be granted a DMCA exception to make accessible versions of texts. They argue that it's far past time to make it permanent. From a report: It's a cliche of digital life that "information wants to be free." The internet was supposed to make the dream a reality, breaking down barriers and connecting anyone to any bit of data, anywhere. But 32 years after the invention of the World Wide Web, people with print disabilities -- the inability to read printed text due to blindness or other impairments -- are still waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Advocates for the blind are fighting an endless battle to access ebooks that sighted people take for granted, working against copyright law that gives significant protections to corporate powers and publishers who don't cater to their needs. For the past year, they've once again undergone a lengthy petitioning process to earn a critical exemption to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act that provides legal cover for people to create accessible versions of ebooks. Baked into Section 1201 of the DMCA is a triennial process through which the Library of Congress considers exceptions to rules that are intended to protect copyright owners. Since 2002, groups advocating for the blind have put together lengthy documents asking for exemptions that allow copy protections on ebooks to be circumvented for the sake of accessibility. Every three years, they must repeat the process, like Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill. On Wednesday, the US Copyright Office released a report recommending the Librarian of Congress once again grant the three-year exemption; it will do so in a final rule that takes effect on Thursday. The victory is tainted somewhat by the struggle it represents. Although the exemption protects people who circumvent digital copyright protections for the sake of accessibility -- by using third-party programs to lift text and save it in a different file format, for example -- that it's even necessary strikes many as a fundamental injustice. "As the mainstream has embraced ebooks, accessibility has gotten lost," says Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind. "It's an afterthought." Publishers have no obligation to make electronic versions of their books accessible to the blind through features like text-to-speech (TTS), which reads aloud onscreen text and is available on whichever device you're reading this article. More than a decade ago, publishers fought Amazon for enabling a TTS feature by default on its Kindle 2 ereader, arguing that it violated their copyright on audiobooks. Now, publishers enable or disable TTS on individual books themselves. Even as TTS has become more common, there's no guarantee that a blind person will be able to enjoy a given novel from Amazon's Kindle storefront, or a textbook or manual. That's why the exemption is so important -- and why advocates do the work over and over again to secure it from the Library of Congress. It's a time-consuming and expensive process that many would rather do away with.

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09/10/2021 15:40:22  

"October 5 marks the official release of Windows 11, a new version of the operating system that doesn't do anything at all to counteract Windows' long history of depriving users of freedom and digital autonomy," writes Free Software Foundation campaigns manager Greg Farough. "While we might have been encouraged by Microsoft's vague, aspirational slogans about community and togetherness, Windows 11 takes important steps in the wrong direction when it comes to user freedom." Microsoft claims that "life's better together" in their advertising for this latest Windows version, but when it comes to technology, there is no surer way of keeping users divided and powerless than nonfree softwarechoosing to create an unjust power structure, in which a developer knowingly keeps users powerless and dependent by withholding information. Increasingly, this involves not only withholding the source code itself, but even basic information on how the software works: what it's really doing, what it's collecting, and how often it's snitching on users. "Snitching" may sound dramatic, but Windows 11 will now require a Microsoft account to be connected to every user account, granting them the ability to correlate user behavior with one's personal identity. Even those who think they have nothing to hide should be wary of sharing potentially all of their computing activity with any company, much less one with a track record of abuse like Microsoft... We expect Microsoft to use its tighter control on cryptography that happens in Windows as a way to impose more severe Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) onto media and applications, and as a way to ensure that no application can run in Windows without Microsoft's approval. In cases like these, it's no longer appropriate to call a machine running Windows a "personal" computer, as it obeys Microsoft more than it does its user. Indeed, it's bitterly ironic that Microsoft is calling the program that verifies a system's compatibility with Windows 11 a "PC Health Check." We counter that a healthy PC is one that respects its user's wishes, runs free software, and doesn't purposefully restrict them through treacherous computing. It would also never send the user's encryption keys back to its corporate overlords. Intrepid users will likely find a way around this requirement, yet it doesn't change the fact that the majority of Windows users will be forced into a treacherous computing scheme... Sometimes, Microsoft realizes that it can't be quite so overtly antisocial. We've commented many times before on the hypocrisy involved in saying that Microsoft "loves open source" and "loves Linux," two ways of mentioning free software without reference to freedom. At the same time, Microsoft employees do make contributions to free software, contributions which benefit many others. Yet they do not extend this philosophy to their operating system, and in the last few years, they've made an attempt to impair the ways free software makes "life better together" further by making critical functions of Microsoft GitHub rely on nonfree JavaScript and directing users toward Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS) platforms. By attacking user freedom through Windows, and the free software community directly by means of nonfree JavaScript, Microsoft proves that it has no plans to loosen its grip on users. No program that you're forbidden to copy, modify, or share can truly bring people "together" in the way that Microsoft claims. Thankfully, and right outside the window, there's a true community of users you and your loved ones can join... Let's stop falling for the trap of chasing short-term, superficial improvements in proprietary software that may seem to make life better, and instead opt for free software, the only software that can support the best versions of ourselves. The post urges readers to sign (or renew!) their pledge not to use Windows and to help a friend install GNU/Linux, "sending Microsoft the strong message that software that subjugates its users has no place in Windows.... If you don't feel ready to take the plunge and switch entirely, you can use our resources like the Free Software Directory to find programs you can use as starting points for your free software journey." The post also has harsh words for TPM, warning that "when it's deployed by a proprietary software company, its relationship to the user isn't one based on trust, but based on treachery. When fully controlled by the user, TPM can be a useful way to strengthen encryption and user privacy, but when it's in the hands of Microsoft, we're not optimistic." And when it comes to Microsoft teams, "it seems that no Windows user can avoid it any longer.... we hope Teams' unpopularity and its newfound, unwanted place in Windows will encourage users to seek out conferencing programs that they themselves can control."

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