Monday, August 26, 2013

Congressional Testimony Statement before the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet

On August 1, 2013, I testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet on the subject “Innovation in America: The Role of Technology.” In my prepared statement, I explained why well-balanced intellectual property laws inspire technology innovation and social good, and described how our Bookshare initiative models the good that copyright exceptions can create. Here is an excerpt from my written testimony, as originally featured on Benetech's Blog:
Photo of Jim Fruchterman addressing an audience.
Delivering my statement before the House Committee
on the Judiciary, August 1, 2013
We build our work on strong foundations laid down by other people and companies, whether it’s the open source ecosystem of the Internet, or proprietary software or content. We don’t create solutions from scratch: our innovation is adapting existing raw technology to meet the needs of the users in the social sector. We call this building the last “social mile.” We depend on an intellectual property system that works and is friendly to innovation. Concepts like fair use, open source and open content make our work much easier, since they reduce the transaction costs for less lucrative uses of intellectual property. And, we frequently depend on the good will of companies and rights holders to provide us with free or inexpensive access to the assets that they control.

We need balanced intellectual property regimes that allow for socially beneficial applications, while allowing industry to make money. Silicon Valley has gotten very good at figuring out ways to make money while giving away the core product: these approaches have exciting analogs in the social sector. […]

Intellectual property laws, at their best, can encourage technological advances, reward creativity and bring benefits to society. Practical and creative innovators, like Benetech, need space to operate to ensure those benefits reach those people who are often most in need of new solutions, but are often least able to afford them. And new technology and new operational models are needed to do far more good with the same or fewer resources.

To make this possible, we must keep the balance in copyright. We need to defend fair use as a laboratory for creativity. And we can’t use moral panics and wild claims of economic damages to constrain innovation in advance. We have a good track record of figuring out how to make money for stakeholders while helping consumers and society, and we can continue this trend. With the leverage of technology, and the foundation provided by well thought out intellectual property laws—and a lot of common sense—we can inspire economic growth AND social good.
You can read the complete text of my congressional testimony statement (PDF format) on Benetech's Blog or watch the video of my oral testimony, below.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Big News in Benetech's Human Rights Program: New Funding and Enhanced Tools!

This post originally appeared on the new Benetech's Blog.

Secure tools to document human rights violations, such as those developed by Benetech’s Human Rights Program, have become critically important in efforts to pursue reform and seek justice—and in keeping human rights defenders safe. When widely deployed, these tools have the potential to make lasting impact by empowering people to fight abuse and advance democracy.

In recent years, the possibilities of what can be achieved with human rights fieldwork and advocacy has expanded as the worldwide use of mobile phones has increased and significant advances have been made in Internet and mobile technology. We’re excited to share that our Human Rights Program has been awarded a two-year, $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) to realize some of those possibilities.

Photo of Collin Sullivan, member of Benetech's Human Rights Field Team, standing next to a staff member of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).
Collin Sullivan, staff member of Benetech's Human Rights Field Team,
on a field visit in Thailand with a staff member of the
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)
As the largest single grant in our Human Rights Program’s history, "On the Frontier of Secure Technology for Human Rights Monitoring” will allow Benetech to deliver a set of major enhancements and updated language translations to Martus, our flagship initiative, along with the further development and broad deployment of our recently released prototype: Mobile Martus. The Mobile Martus prototype allows users to send crucial data from the field—text, photographs, audio and video—to the Martus network of secure servers. The data is automatically encrypted on the mobile phone, and when being sent to the server, so it is protected in case the phone is lost, stolen or confiscated. The user—or someone they designate—can later retrieve their data, and can search, analyze and report on the information, using the Martus client software.

To further enhance the impact of Mobile Martus, we are partnering with The Guardian Project, leaders in mobile security and verifiable mobile media. Together, we will integrate Mobile Martus with Guardian’s media capture and verification capabilities, and explore opportunities to improve overall security in Mobile Martus using Guardian’s mobile security tools. Guardian will also be enhancing its mobile media security tools to support the safe collection and transmission of human rights data. And to support these enhancements, Benetech will develop new visualization, mapping and other features to the Martus software that can help human rights groups better understand their data and communicate their findings.

Logo for Martus software.We will deploy these Martus enhancements, including Mobile Martus, to a broad base of human rights defenders, working directly with these groups to build capacity within their organizations and help make our tools most effective for them. On this front, we will collaborate with Internews, which will leverage its 30 years of rights-promoting fieldwork around the world to expand the use of Martus by including it in the suite of digital security tools they train on.

Here’s why this grant is so important to us: Gathering the stories of victims and witnesses puts human rights fieldworkers and their sources at grave risk. They face intense surveillance and state-sponsored harassment by skilled and well-resourced attackers who want access to their sensitive information and their network of contacts. To stay safe and continue their important work, human rights defenders need advanced, but easy to use information security tools—especially mobile tools. And they need to be able to trust those tools.

At Benetech, one of our organizational truths is to recognize the importance of openness and transparency.  That’s why all of the software work done by Benetech and our technology development partners on Martus is open source: where the software’s source code is open for inspection. Activists have been asked to entrust proprietary tools with life and death information, and have learned recently how much that trust has been violated. We feel strongly that our open source approach, combined with intentionally designing and operating Martus to ensure that others (including Benetech) do not have access to the user’s confidential data, is critical for the best possible protection of human rights information.

With this new grant, we are able to build and enhance secure tools for human rights defenders who urgently need them, in some of the world’s most Internet-hostile countries. We invite you to check back on our blog (or sign up for our organizational newsletter) for ongoing updates on Benetech’s work.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Welcome to Benetech's New Site! (and...)

We've just launched Benetech's new website. This is my Welcome post that originally appeared on the new Benetech Blog.

On behalf of the Benetech team, including our Board of Directors, I’m delighted to welcome you to our new website and formally introduce our newest program area: Benetech Labs! At Benetech, our goal is to create positive social change through technology. Telling our story is an important way we’re able to accomplish that goal—it allows us to generate the interest and support necessary to develop technology that helps countless people around the world. With this new site, we hope to better share our story and the impact of our work in a clear and consistent way across our four program areas, which encompass a diverse set of initiatives, products and services.
Benetech logo: an orange colored globe with yellow colored binary code "0/1" printed on it.Look around—there’s a lot that’s new. We’ve updated our brand identity. We’ve made things more engaging, adding more images and video along with the ability to share and comment on content. We’ve started a Benetech blog that will feature voices from across our organization (one that is separate from my personal Beneblog). We’ve also started an email list, which I encourage you to sign up for, so we can stay better connected with you on important updates on Benetech’s work.

We’ve designed the site to be fully searchable, making it easy to find the information you need, and developed new content to convey the impact of our work and provide resources we hope will be useful. You’ll also find information about several meaningful ways to support our work. We hope you’ll consider them: our ability to sustain our ongoing efforts, while exploring and creating new technology to meet pressing social needs, depends on the generosity of people like you!

One last important note about our new site is regarding its accessibility. Benetech is committed to making our website accessible to all. We’ve partnered with Knowbility, Inc., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support the independence of people with disabilities by promoting the use and improving the availability of accessible information technology. Knowbility conducted a thorough accessibility and usability audit of our site. Based on their report, we worked with our web developers to both remove any barriers to accessibility and to make many usability enhancements. You can read more about the accessibility features of our site and submit any issues on our site accessibility page.  

Logo for Benetech LabsBenetech Labs

Finally, we’re excited to formally announce the launch of a new core program area: Benetech Labs. I’m proud to say that over the past 24 years, Benetech’s track record has been one of proven success. We’ve started the Labs to build on that foundation—to explore many more new ideas for using technology for social good.

At any given time we’ve got dozens of new ideas in our pipeline, coming from our extensive network of social innovators, social sector leaders and technology visionaries. Benetech Labs will be a place for us to engage more deeply with these “best and brightest” and identify the big ideas with potential to successfully meet a pressing social need. It’s also a place that allows us to try, and not always succeed—many ideas will never make it out of the Labs. However, we know that many others can progress and become tools that help countless people. We think that’s an exciting risk worth taking!

This is a thrilling time for Benetech—we’ve got great momentum and are poised to have more impact than ever over the next few years. I hope you get involved personally and join us in our work to make the world a better place through technology. And I hope you like our new site!

As always, your feedback is valuable to us. Please feel free to share any thoughts or comments with us. Please drop by again soon…and often!

Kind Regards,

Jim Fruchterman
President & CEO  

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

What is in the Treaty of Marrakesh?

The View from an Authorized Entity 

Many Bookshare users (and potential Bookshare users!) have been asking about the Treaty of Marrakesh (formal name: The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities. What’s in it; what does it mean; how does it affect Bookshare members?

In the popular online acronym, IANAL (I am not a lawyer). However, as the founder of the Bookshare online library, we have a great deal at stake in how the Treaty gets implemented. Although it might seem like a complicated document, we’re really excited about it because we think it will greatly improve global access for people with bona fide print disabilities. Here’s our laymen’s take on the major provisions of the Treaty.

The Treaty of Marrakesh, Top Issues:

What’s the goal of the Treaty?

The goal of the Treaty is to end the book famine for people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. Ultimately, this community should have equal access to all of the books that are needed for education, employment and social inclusion.

How Does the Treaty Meet this Goal?

It does that in two main ways. First, it makes creating a national domestic copyright exception an obligation of countries that ratify the Treaty. That makes it legal in these countries for people with these disabilities, and the organizations that serve them, to make accessible versions of books without having to get permission from the author or publisher. Second, the Treaty allows for easier import and export of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works. This will reduce duplication of efforts in different countries in adapting the same title. Plus, it will especially help countries with less-developed libraries and services for people with disabilities by making it easier to tap large collections (like Bookshare) in other countries.

Noteworthy Articles in the Treaty:

Article 2(a). Works Covered. “literary and artistic works … in the form of text, notation and/or related illustrations, whether published or otherwise made publicly available in any media;”. So, this means books, periodicals and other similar textual works, including audio versions of those titles. It covers music in the form of sheet music, but not audio or videos of performances. It doesn’t cover movies.
Article 2(c). Defines Authorized Entity. The role of the Authorized Entity is critical in the Treaty, and it’s a straightforward definition. It’s a nonprofit or government agency that makes accessible copies of Works, and limits distribution of those copies to people with bona fide disabilities, the “Beneficiary Persons,” defined in the next article.
Article 3. Defines Beneficiary Persons. It’s a great definition that includes just about any disability that interferes with the effective reading of printed material. It includes people who are blind, visually impaired, reading disabled (example: dyslexia) or have a physical disability that gets in the way of effectively holding a book, turning pages or focusing on the page. We don’t think it changes who qualifies for Bookshare in the United States, though, but we’re delighted that it clearly included people with learning disabilities like dyslexia, who represent over 75% of our current users in the United States.
Article 4. Countries should enact a domestic copyright exception so that Authorized Entities can make accessible copies of Works without getting permission from the rightsholders. This is satisfied by having a law like the Chafee Amendment in the U.S., or similar laws in other countries like India and the EU.
Articles 5 and 6. Cross border exchange to be permitted, both between authorized entities and directly from one authorized entity to individuals in other countries. This is really important for Bookshare, which has implemented the ability to both partner with schools and organizations to download books for specific individuals (our organizational account) and for individuals with disabilities to download books themselves (our individual account, “having your own library card”). We think of this latter capability as crucial for equality and autonomy for our members, to have the ability to choose the books they want to read without needing an intermediary.
Article 7. Technological Protection Measures. These are the digital locks that make it hard to copy digital content. They are intended to prevent the making of illegal copies, but often have the unintended consequence of stopping access by people with disabilities who need the text to be spoken aloud or converted into Braille or large print. This article says it should be legal to circumvent TPMs so that a person with a print disability can get access to books. This is a crucial provision for the future, because more and more books will be published solely in digital form.
Article 8. Respect Privacy. When implementing the Treaty provisions, countries should ensure that the privacy of people with disabilities is protected equally as that of people without disabilities.

Other Noteworthy Provisions in the Treaty

Respect for copyright holders’ interests 

Article 2 of the Treaty makes it clear that accessible books sent under its provisions should be solely for the use of “beneficiary persons.” It asks also that “authorized entities” take “due care” when handling these books, and that they discourage the reproduction and distribution of unauthorized copies. These are reasonable requirements, and ones Bookshare takes seriously.


One of our big concerns going into the Treaty negotiations was that import/export of accessible copies would be subject to a general commerciality requirement. This survived in the Treaty in a much weaker form, which allows countries to choose to have a commerciality requirement in their copyright law, which some countries like Singapore and Australia already do have. Such countries have to let WIPO know formally that their domestic law requires a commerciality test, and I believe they also have to let WIPO whether it affects imports of accessible materials into that country from elsewhere.

The Three Step Test

This arcane bit of international copyright law caused a lot of concern among advocates that it might be a Trojan horse for more extensive commerciality requirements. It shows up a bunch in the treaty, but we don’t think it is likely to get in the way of helping blind people except in rare situations.

The Treaty for Americans with Disabilities 

People with print disabilities in the United States are going to be pretty happy with the Treaty. It’s consistent with existing U.S. law, plus it has import and export provisions between countries. Since it takes twenty countries to ratify the Treaty for it to become effective, and it doesn’t affect Americans until the U.S. Senate ratifies the Treaty, actual differences won’t be seen for at least a year and maybe longer. Once the Treaty is in effect, we expect that existing Bookshare users will qualify under the Treaty’s terms for international accessibility. Bookshare will get more books published in other countries, in far more languages. Americans come from a wide, wide variety of ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and the Treaty will especially improve access for Americans with disabilities. Our users will be able to directly request materials from libraries in other countries: we’d like to set it up so that Bookshare membership is sufficient proof of disability.

The Treaty for the Rest of the World

The Treaty will have a huge impact on accessibility for people with print disabilities. It should both promote the domestic production of accessible materials in each country, as well as provide access to books produced elsewhere. This will be important for books in languages that cross national boundaries, languages like English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Bangla/Bengali, Indonesian, Swahili and so on. It will also be especially important for countries that haven’t traditionally had robust services for people with disabilities: these less wealthy countries should benefit greatly from access to the extensive collections developed in wealthier and larger countries. Bookshare expects to make extra efforts to assist with this expanded access: it’s part of our mission to help people with disabilities around the world.


In plain language, this is a Treaty that should start to remedy the book famine. It provides a crucial legal framework for adoption of national copyright exceptions in countries that lack them. It creates an international import/export regime for the exchange of accessible books across borders. It is necessary for ending the book famine, but it is not sufficient. Countries need to sign, ratify and implement its provisions. And, nonprofit organizations, libraries, educational institutions and government need to take advantage of these provisions to actually deliver the accessible books people with disabilities need for education, employment and full social inclusion. The Bookshare team looks forward to working with the World Blind Union and our peer libraries all over the world to implement the Treaty and fully end the book famine for people with print disabilities.