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White Paper Examines Providing Access to Texts in Context of Civil Rights and Copyrights

closeup of person reading braille
image CC-BY Stefan Malmesjö

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the University of Virginia (UVA) Library are pleased to release a white paper, The Law and Accessible Texts: Reconciling Civil Rights and Copyrights, authored by Brandon Butler (UVA), Prue Adler (ARL), and Krista Cox (ARL). This white paper, part of a project supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, analyzes how institutions of higher education can meet their mission of providing all students with equitable access to information within the current legal framework. Ensuring access to research and learning materials is critical in protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities.

The white paper is informed by the robust discussions during a two-day meeting of experts at ARL in January 2019 concerning legal and practical issues related to accessible-text management. The paper examines civil rights laws that require creation and distribution of accessible texts by higher education and research institutions as well as the copyright laws that are sometimes perceived as barriers to providing equitable access. The authors discuss how limitations and exceptions in copyright law can be used to create and distribute accessible formats, comply with disability rights laws, and support institutional missions of providing equitable access to research and learning materials.

Ultimately, the existing copyright framework in the United States can and should be used to support and ensure equitable access to information for people with disabilities. As the white paper concludes, “What has emerged is a hierarchy of legal interests, arrayed under the general heading of the First Amendment and its protection for expression and access to information. Contrary to what some have assumed in the past, the first priority under that heading is accessibility, which consistently trumps the exclusive rights granted by copyright when the two come into conflict.”

Download and read The Law and Accessible Texts: Reconciling Civil Rights and Copyrights.

About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries in Canada and the US whose mission is to advance research, learning, and scholarly communication. The Association fosters the open exchange of ideas and expertise, promotes equity and diversity, and pursues advocacy and public policy efforts that reflect the values of the library, scholarly, and higher education communities. ARL forges partnerships and catalyzes the collective efforts of research libraries to enable knowledge creation and to achieve enduring and barrier-free access to information. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.

About the University of Virginia Library

The UVA Library is the foundation on which the University of Virginia built a transformative educational community. The Library partners in learning and collaborates in discovery by creating inclusive and sustainable collections, services, spaces and infrastructure, and plays an integral role in UVA’s ability to maintain its standing as a top-ranked public institution of higher education.

With ten facilities and a sophisticated online environment, the Library serves both UVA and the wider scholarly community, providing access to a rich array of physical and digital scholarly materials that include more than 20 million manuscripts and archives, about 5 million printed volumes, more than 187,000 journal subscriptions, and millions of non-text materials.