The UK Copyright Visually Impaired Persons Act 2002 permits, without infringement of copyright, the transfer of copyright works to formats accessible to visually impaired persons.
Under the Copyright Visually Impaired Persons Act 2002, single accessible copies may be made for, and distributed to, the blind for their own personal use without a licence. Non-profit and educational bodies can also make and supply multiple accessible copies without a licence.
The Act removes the key difficulty experienced by those of us seeking to make information accessible - the need to seek prior permission and the resulting delay - whilst preserving the legitimate rights of authors and others. Thus the Act introduces exceptions to copyright law which, in general terms, remove the need for anyone to obtain permission from the rights holder to produce an "accessible copy".
The Act does not, however, create a total free for all! Organisations generally need a licence to make accessible copies of copyrighted works in formats such as Braille, large print and electronic or audio type for visually impaired people.
Who is covered by the Act?
One strength of the new law is its functional definition of visual impairment.
"A visually impaired person" is defined broadly, as a person
(a) who is blind;
(b) who has an impairment of visual function which cannot be improved, by the use of corrective lenses, to a level that would normally be acceptable for reading without a special level or kind of light;
(c) who is unable, through physical disability, to hold or manipulate a book; or
(d) who is unable, through physical disability, to focus or move his eyes to the extent that would normally be acceptable for reading.
Thus it goes beyond "blind and partially sighted" people, as commonly understood, but does not encompass people with perceptual or cognitive disabilities, such as dyslexia. Nor those with hearing impairments.
NB: This definition, differing from that used by Articles for the Blind and many organisation's eligibility criteria, does not in any way affect any other definition.
What is an accessible copy?
Another strength of the Act is that it focuses on accessibility rather than specific formats.
"An accessible copy" is defined as:
"a version which provides for a visually impaired person improved access to the work."
"An accessible copy may include facilities for navigating around the version of the copyright work…", so it covers hard and soft copies - ie, braille, audio, e-text, large print etc.
What is covered by the Act?
"Any literary, dramatic, artistic or musical work" not accessible to a visually impaired person in its original form.
"Musical" refers to sheet music, not to performed or recorded music.
The term "literary" does not imply any literary merit. It simply means textual. Databases are excluded.
Who can do what
There are two parts to the new Act:
- one-for-one copies
- multiple copies.
If you are visually impaired, you can make, or ask anyone to make for you, a single accessible copy of anything of which you have "lawful possession" or "lawful use".
This can cover anything that you have bought, been given or lent, or that is held in a library that you are eligible to use.
It covers material published commercially but also other material made public, such as dissertations lodged in a library.
Once you have got your accessible copy, you can pass it to others who qualify as "visually impaired", to the same extent that you would be able to do with the print copy, as long as you pass the print copy with it.
Equally, you can pass original and accessible version back to a librarian or teacher, who could later issue them to another eligible person.
The governing principle is that the original print copy remains with any accessible versions, so that only one person can "read" the work at any one time, as with print. Obligations and limitations with "one-for-one" copying
The right does not apply if an equivalent accessible copy is already available commercially.
The accessible copy must carry "sufficient acknowledgement" of its source, such as title, author, and edition.
It must carry wording to indicate that it has been created under the terms of Section 31A of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 as amended by the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002.
Multiple (two or more) accessible copies can be made by any not-for-profit body and any educational establishment. The Act refers to these as "approved bodies", but no approval process is required.
Generally, files for producing accessible copies, known as intermediate copies, can be transferred between one approved body and another. However, an educational establishment has, under the Act, to ensure that copies will only be used for its own educational purposes. Licensing schemes (see below) can overcome this limitation.
The right covers any "commercially published" item of which the approved body has "lawful possession". Thus they may have bought or borrowed the original. (Note that under this multiple copy exception, the original has to be published commercially, whereas for the personal use exception, the original has only to be "a work" or "published"). Obligations and limitations relating to multiple copies
NB - This section should be read in conjunction with that on licensing schemes below.
As with personal copies, the right does not apply if an equivalent accessible copy is already available commercially; and the accessible copy must carry "sufficient acknowledgement" of its source,, such as title, author, and edition.
It must carry wording to indicate that it has been created under the terms of Section 31B of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, as amended by the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002. The rights holder must still be notified retrospectively that the accessible copies have been produced and distributed.
Records must be kept of titles and formats produced, and of the approved body's customers. These records must be available for inspection by the copyright owner on request.
Supervision and enforcement