Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Social DRM: It’s About Equal Access for All

Guest Beneblog by Gerardo Capiel, Benetech's VP, Engineering

One of the highlights of my meeting circuit each year is the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference in New York City. There is no better place to engage with colleagues about new technologies, changing business models, fresh ideas, and shared standards. Next month, I will be heading to TOC a couple of days early in order to participate in a W3C Workshop on eBooks and the Open Web Platform, where I will be talking about Social DRM (Digital Rights Management). What is it and why is it important? 

As followers of this blog know, Benetech's largest social enterprise is the Bookshare online library for people with print disabilities. Our commitment is to provide access to books for those who are unable to read a traditional print format and to do so without harming the economic interests of authors and publishers. You can read much more about this in Jim Fruchterman’s blog post, “Upholding the Social Bargain: Bookshare and Copyright Compliance.”

The Problem with Traditional DRM
Traditional “strong” Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions have traditionally been the most common way to control access to online books. However, strong DRM turns out to be an impediment to the commercial distribution of accessible ebooks. It turns out that traditional DRM mechanisms can’t tell the difference between access for the purpose of making an illegal copy and access for the purpose of sending the text to a braille notetaker/display or a voice synthesizer program that will read the text aloud. As a result, strong DRM has the unintended effect of preventing people with disabilities from reading the text that they are entitled to. We at Benetech are therefore a proponent of “social” DRM formats that allow interoperability with assistive technology (AT) devices and software.

Social DRM
We satisfy DRM requirements by employing a Seven-Point Digital Rights Management Plan. This plan includes using such techniques as:

  • Watermarking – Marking an ebook as being from our Bookshare library.
  • Fingerprinting – Embedding the user's name in plaintext in the downloaded ebook file and hiding the user ID information invisibly inside the main body of the book.
  • Encryption – Delivery through secure/encrypted channels.
  • Monitoring – A security program monitors all transactions and automatically limits any user whose account downloads more than a fixed number of titles in a given month (typically 100 titles). In addition, Bookshare regularly searches the web for illegal copies of content originating from Bookshare user downloads and suspends the account of users found to have been the source of such content, as well as issuing take-down notices to the websites hosting such content.
When users join Bookshare we also make it clear in the agreements they sign that access to these books is a privilege and that bad behavior could imperil this access in the future. With 1.3 million ebooks being downloaded per year using the social DRM scheme (fingerprinting only, no digital locks), we see only about 10 instances annually of unauthorized copies available on the web. In almost all of those cases, the ebooks still have the name of our user in plain text in the file. On investigation, we find that most of these cases have to do with users who have inadvertently violated our terms by not understanding the technology. However, in a few cases, we have terminated access rights because there was evidence of clear intent to violate our commitment to restrict access to people with bona fide print disabilities.

“Born Accessible” at TOC
If you are interested in learning more about the future of online book publishing, don’t miss the session entitled Born Accessible: An up-to-the-minute update on the tools, standards, techniques and developments that support ‘Inclusive Publishing’ practices. Moderated by Betsy Beaumon (Benetech) with panelists Tim Coates (Bilbary), Larry Goldberg (NCAM at WGBH) and George Kerscher (DAISY Consortium and IDPF), we’ll hear about a new distribution model known as “Bookaccess” that will allow the sale of accessible content to a broad segment of new customers. See you there!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Josh, a new indie feature film set in Pakistan

Last night, Virginia and I were in a packed auditorium at Stanford watching a preview screening of a terrific new indie feature film, Josh. Josh جوش  (Against the Grain), the first feature film by director Iram Parveen Bilal, is set in modern-day Pakistan.

Although the movie touches on many social justice issues, Iram made it clear that she didn't want to make another documentary about Pakistan.  She succeeds in showing us, rather than telling, something true and challenging.

In the post-film Q&A, Iram said she aspired to do for Pakistan what Slum Dog Millionaire did for India. As someone who has been privileged to attend a handful of previews from Participant Media, Jeff Skoll's socially responsible film production company, I get that the way to truly reach society is through story telling and mass media.  I was delighted that Iram's film succeeds in telling a great story about the coexistence of an almost medieval feudal rural society and a modern cosmopolitan generation. 

We also heard from one of the musicians, Manesh Judge, who helped make the powerful soundtrack.  Virginia had heard of Indus World Music, his San Francisco company that is dedicated to Raaga music, both classical and popular. 

We felt lucky to be included at this early stage in the film's roll-out: it was a chance encounter with the director that landed us on the list for last night's screening.  I met Iram last year when I was the evening speaker for Caltech's Gnome Club Founder's Night event.  It was exciting to hear that Iram had ditched her career as a brilliant scientist to become a filmmaker.  She says it's because of her impatience to change society faster.  As a person who parlayed a Caltech education into social entrepreneurship (an atypical choice for Techers), I could sympathize with her desire to make social impact!  And, I couldn't help remember that the famous director Frank Capra was a Caltech grad and Gnome Club member.  Maybe Iram is the Caltech cinematic heir to Capra!

Even though more than half of the dialog is in English (most of the rural dialog is in Urdu with English subtitles), it's not clear if U.S. distributors will show it widely on the indie film circuit here.  Iram is mainly pinning her hopes on festivals and a theatrical release in Pakistan and India. 

If you get a chance to see this film, take it!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bookshare without Borders: #3/3

Creating the World’s Largest Collection of Accessible Arabic eBooks 

Access to knowledge is the critical first step on the path to economic, educational, and social development. With this three-part blog series on our expansion of the proven Bookshare model internationally, we’d like to give you a glimpse into the ways in which Benetech provides people with disabilities around the world equal access to knowledge. In the first installment of this series, I described the Bookshare International library and where we hope to take it next. The second blog post looked at our growing Bookshare Spanish-language program. Now another important aspect of our strategy for enhancing Bookshare’s new language capabilities is developing the capacity to handle non-European scripts and languages so that the content may be presented in its original form in our members’ native languages. We’ve already built a collection of titles in Hindi and Tamil, two of the most-spoken languages in India, and last summer we released our first accessible collection in Arabic. In this third installment of our blog series, I’d like to focus on that achievement and share some of what we learned throughout the process of creating Bookshare’s first offerings in Arabic.

In 2011, we began collaborating with the Mada Center (Qatar Assistive Technology Center) to create accessible Arabic-language digital books. After intensive work by our Bookshare team, last June we released 100 titles in Arabic, making the Bookshare Arabic Collection the world’s largest collection of accessible Arabic ebooks! Our collection includes children’s books from Scholastic, contemporary books from Arab Scientific Publishers in Lebanon and literary books from the public domain from Kotobarabia in Egypt. These socially responsible publishing partners generously gave us world rights to their titles, thus allowing us to take the first significant step towards digital inclusion of Arabic speakers with print disabilities. We’re incredibly grateful to these visionary publishers who worked with us closely to overcome multiple hurdles, from getting files in the right format to battling various issues with digitizing Arabic to learning about assistive technology in the Arab world.

We’d also like to thank the Mada Center team for its great support throughout this process. To increase utilization of our Arabic collection, Mada offers free Bookshare memberships to qualified individuals in Qatar as well as training and advice on the use of assistive technology. Mada is also helping us encourage publishers of Arabic-language books to support this important initiative and provide additional content to be included in Bookshare. The initial collection has already inspired a new partner to come on board: the Emirates Association for the Visually Impaired (EAVI), a nonprofit organization that serves people with print disabilities in the United Arab Emirates. EAVI will purchase Bookshare memberships for any of its members interested in subscribing to our service.

Digitally processing Arabic-language content is no easy task. I’m very proud of our Bookshare team who did an amazing job tackling huge challenges to become the leading provider of accessible Arabic and one of the world’s experts in digital Arabic. As an example, we learned that there are serious obstacles involved in the process of electronically converting scanned images of Arabic-language text into a digital format (a process known as optical character recognition or OCR), especially when a high level of accuracy is required in order to render the text in DAISY, the accessible digital file format. Our team also had various adventures in learning about the complexities involved in computer processing of the Arabic diacritical marks (Tashkeel). Diacritics in Arabic are crucial to identifying how words are pronounced and to disambiguating their meanings. Native speakers usually omit these symbols when writing and they are not included in most adult literature, but they are very helpful for many text-processing applications, such as read aloud or text-to-speech (TTS) software, by which many of our members read Bookshare’s ebooks.

Looking ahead, our goals are to increase collaboration with partners in Arabic-speaking countries so as to reach a larger base of users who would benefit from Bookshare and to grow our library of Arabic titles. There’s so much more we could do to advance the path towards full digital inclusion of the world’s people with print disabilities. Please help us empower the multitudes who are continuously overcoming social and economic barriers to unlock a world of opportunities and information and improve their quality of life. Access to information, to knowledge, is crucial for realizing opportunity for people with disabilities, no matter where they live!

I would like to especially thank Noa Ronkin, Kristina Pappas and Robin Seaman for their extensive work in developing this three-part blog series.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Bookshare without Borders: #2/3

Random House Mondadori and Expanding the Spanish-language Bookshare Program

Benetech’s strong relationships with numerous partners across sectors are fundamental to our continued success. These relationships generate countless ideas for using technology for social good. Together with our partners in the nonprofit, technology, government, academic and publishing sectors, we participate in new cultural and technological movements, deriving new knowledge that we apply for social gain. In this second installment of the three-part blog series (the first one is here) on Bookshare International, I’m excited to share some of the ways in which our Bookshare library is part of the latest trends in the digital publishing world and is thus going deeper and serving many more people.

Digitization and globalization are giving rise to growing publishing markets that promise new business opportunities. Aiming at the revenue potential of these growth markets, the main international players in the world of digital content distribution – such as Amazon, Apple and Google – are racing to enhance their platforms with non-English content. Spanish publishing is one of the hottest digital battlegrounds. The investments that Amazon, Apple and Google, among others, are making in aggregating Spanish-language digital content signal their priority on developing the Spanish-language markets in Latin America. For more on this point, see this editorial by the inimitable Javier Celaya (more on Javier later in this post).

Globalization and the digital transformation of the book industry also stand behind the recent big news in the publishing world about the mega-merger of Penguin and Random House, says Ed Nawotka. Ed is an expert on international digital publishing issues and Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, the online journal of international publishing news and opinion that’s been called “the BBC of the book world.” In a recent blog post, Ed explains why growth markets are key to this proposed merger of two of the publishing world’s biggest players. Penguin, he points out, is a growing power in China, India and Brazil, while Random House is pervasive across Spanish-speaking Latin America. Random House and Bertelsmann, its European owner, are already huge players in Latin America thanks to Random House Mondadori, Bertelsmann’s trade book publisher in Spain and Latin America and one of the world’s largest and most prestigious Spanish-language publishers. Penguin Random House will therefore combine to create synergies overseas and deliver billions of dollars in annual sales.

At Benetech, we also have a strategy for internationalization and globalization aimed at bringing our technology solutions to a growing base of users. We, too, are working hard to expand Bookshare into more geographies and languages. As I mentioned in the first installment of this blog series, developing new language capabilities is one of the pillars of Bookshare International. Now we, too, are investing major efforts in aggregating Spanish-language titles. The crucial difference is that, as a nonprofit, we’re on a quest to ensure that our Bookshare library serves anyone who needs it, regardless of where they live. Our goal is to provide accessible books to many more people worldwide, rather than make the maximum financial return.

We’re very excited to announce that Random House Mondadori has recently signed our Bookshare agreement, giving us world rights to their titles. Random House Mondadori is one of Spain’s top three publishers and also has significant market share in Mexico and across South and Central America. Based in Barcelona, Spain, Random House Mondadori originated from a joint venture between Random House and Mondadori, an editorial book and magazine leader in Italy (following the announcement of the merger of Penguin and Random House, Bertelsmann has acquired the 50% stake in Random House Mondadori that had been held by its Italian partner – a move that reinforces the company’s focus on developing Spanish-language markets in Latin America, as Ed Nawotka notes). Random House Mondadori is the first Spanish publisher to partner with us and its support of the Bookshare community sends a great signal to the other Spanish publishers we have approached. We trust that this is the beginning of a thriving Spanish-language Bookshare program and we’re looking forward to partnering with many more publishers and other collaborators in the global effort to provide accessible content in Spanish to people with print disabilities.

Developing and implementing growth opportunities with new digital partners require skill, expertise, and collaboration. Benetech is very fortunate to have Robin Seaman, our accomplished Director of Content Acquisition, as the driving force behind our expanding partnerships with the publishing community. There’s a great deal that happens on the way to a signed Bookshare agreement, which is why Robin spends a major portion of her time traveling between book fairs and meetings with publishers and other stakeholders. Our partnership with Random House Mondadori is a case in point and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped us throughout the process.

Special thanks go to long-time Bookshare partner Random House who introduced Robin to Carmen Ospina, Director of Digital Strategy and International Business Development at Random House Mondadori; and to Javier Celaya, founder of the socio-cultural website, Director of the Master in Digital Communications program at the University of Alcalá de Henares in Spain, and the digital go-to guy in the Spanish-language world. Javier helped us consolidate our relationship with Random House Mondadori and is working to help us obtain content for Bookshare from other Spanish publishers.

Finally, we’re grateful to the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation for matching us with pro bono attorneys who drafted a very impressive agreement tailored to Spanish law concerning serving individuals with print disabilities. Special thanks go to Charles Coward and Xavier Domènech of the Barcelona law firm Uría Menéndez. The Lex Mundi Foundation is a nonprofit affiliate of Lex Mundi, the world’s leading association of independent law firms. It calls upon Lex Mundi’s unique global network of top-tier commercial law firms to provide legal assistance to select social entrepreneurs on a pro bono basis.

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to our great win on the path towards meeting the accessibility challenge with a growing collection of accessible Spanish-language titles. We invite you to check out the Bookshare catalog for updates on our Spanish collection. Please stay tuned for the next and final installment in this three-part blog series on our work to expand the proven Bookshare model internationally.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Bookshare without Borders: #1/3

Bookshare International Library

We’re always thinking about new ways in which Benetech could go deeper and help many more people. While we’re extremely proud of our achievements in the field of accessibility and disability rights, we know that we’ve just scratched the surface of what we could possibly do to bolster parity of access to information by people with disabilities. Bookshare, our flagship literacy program, is the world’s largest accessible library and currently serves more than 230,000 members with visual and learning disabilities. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, as literacy remains an elusive dream for the majority of the world’s people with print disabilities. Benetech is on a mission to make information accessible and affordable for all individuals with print disabilities who could benefit from our innovative literacy solutions. We’re making securing new funding for Bookshare’s international expansion a top priority!

Reading a Bookshare-downloaded book on the BrailleNote portable device
Launched in 2007 to replicate the proven Bookshare model internationally, our Bookshare International library has already grown to serve members in more than 40 countries, many of whom are in the developing world. Our international members now benefit from an ever-growing collection of accessible books: more than 70,000 titles (out of Bookshare’s 170,000+ titles) are currently available in most countries – a figure that oftentimes far exceeds the number of books available to the general population in developing world countries. These ebooks can quickly be turned into Braille, large print or be read aloud by a synthetic voice synthesizer. Moreover, earlier this year we began offering books in MP3 format. This is a most exciting development: it means that anyone with a cheap MP3 player or a phone that plays MP3s can have access to our books. We’re grateful to our socially responsible publishing partners who give us world rights to their titles, even though they are not required to do so under international copyright law.

We have built Bookshare International upon three principles. The first is developing strong local partners, such as disability NGOs, libraries or educational institutions that help us customize our services to the specific needs of their communities. Our partners are responsible for verifying and maintaining records of each member’s proof of disability – a process that is best done with local knowledge. They also provide outreach and user support, which helps us keep our costs low as well as build local capacity to meet accessibility needs.

The second principle is sourcing locally relevant content. With support of authors and publishers, we provide our international members with books that are targeted towards their specific needs and interests. For example, in developing countries, we aim to help our members pursue educational and employment opportunities. We therefore have a large selection of computer science titles as well as books that prepare readers to take civil service and bank exams or to apply for government jobs, which are often available to people with disabilities.  But, we have far more to do to ensure that all Bookshare users have access to the local content they need!

The third pillar of Bookshare International is developing new language capabilities. This is an area of special focus for our Bookshare team. My next two blog posts will be on this topic. Our current collection includes books in Afrikaans, Arabic, French, German, Hindi, Polish, Spanish and Tamil. My second blog post in this series will describe how we are growing our Spanish-language program. While titles in English and other European languages comprise the majority of our current collection, we are also developing the capability to handle non-European script and languages so that the content may be presented in its original form in our members’ native languages. We began with Hindi and Tamil, two of the most-spoken languages in India, and have recently added Arabic, which opened up our services to countries all across the Middle East and Northern Africa. The third blog post in this series on Bookshare International will describe our adventures creating the library’s first offerings in Arabic.

Bookshare International’s balanced portfolio of developed and developing member countries enables Benetech to offer locally affordable subscriptions to our members. Revenues from developed countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Denmark, where subscription fees are comparable to those in the United States, help us underwrite the cost of memberships in developing world countries such as India, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. In fact, in these countries we are serving an even larger social mission of ameliorating a pervasive “book famine.”

We envision a future in which the world’s people with disabilities can easily access the books they need for education, employment, and full social inclusion. Our team is brimming with ideas for making that vision a reality. For instance, we would like to create a mobile version of Bookshare that would allow users with no easy access to a computer and wired Internet to benefit from our services. We would like to launch an intensive expansion of Bookshare throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, where we already have initial partnerships. We’re also looking forward to scaling Bookshare in India, where there’s now a great opportunity to revolutionize the availability of accessible materials in the wake of the newly passed Indian copyright law. With this new copyright exemption, local Indian organizations serving people with disabilities can now provide accessible formats of any book or periodical in India, much like the Chafee Amendment allows us to do in the United Sates. We’re standing by to help support these Indian organizations with the technology and services of Bookshare in pursuing these expanded digitization efforts. We would love to be the technology back-end, enabling every country to have its local equivalent of what Bookshare is in the U.S. Of course, we have many more exciting ideas for transforming the lives of millions of people who could benefit from our services.

Do you know any people with print disabilities living outside the United States? Make sure they know they are probably qualified to join Bookshare! We invite you to read more information about our international membership. Please consider joining us in growing Bookshare International and helping us see that the technology of accessible books serves all people who need it, regardless of where they live.