Thursday, November 19, 2009

Talking books may soon be a thing of the past

A group of young adults make books accessible to visually impaired, but copyright law poses hurdle

When copyright lawyer Rahul Cherian was recovering from cancer and had to use a wheelchair, he was in for a shock. There were no provisions for the physically challenged at the hospital. There were no ramps and no post-trauma counseling while the visually impaired patients were completely excluded.

“There were no large print books, Braille or audio books for the convalescing patients,” Cherian says. “Since there are 40 million blind people in the country who cannot read print, I couldn’t understand this.”

Cherian, along with best friend Rubin Jacob and Sachin Malhan, then started a venture, Bookbol or talking books.

This online, outreach organisation, allows visually impaired people to share scanned educational material, research papers and e-books through software like screen reader. Part of a larger organisation called People Inclusive Planet, this site has had over a 1,000 uses and over 10,000 hits.

Bookbol was just gaining steam when the new stringent copyright law intruded — it disallows any unauthorised translations, whether it’s Braille or audio books, or just online files that can be decoded by a screen-reading software.

“I can share my collage notes, since there is no copyright law on that, but it will become hard to share books and other material that requires legal approval,” says Abdul Razique Khan, 20, who is doing BBA at Symbiosis University in Pune.

Cherian, who was in Delhi for a meet with the director-general of World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), says the best way to tackle this is through the legal system. “It is our fundamental right to be able to read,” he says, “so we have drafted an international treaty on the copyright law. It will be presented before the Human Rights Development Ministry after it is approved by a panel of retired judges, and organisations like WIPO.”

He says, “We have started a nationwide campaign to win back our constitutional rights, to read and be educated. We are also holding seminars at colleges, like Loyola, and are coming to Delhi in December with the same purpose.”

The organisation works through a network of individuals and groups like international groups like BLAFT and Right to Read, who share audio and Braille books online. Booboo has translated books in Tamil, Bangla and English in accessible mediums.

The organisation is funded by corporates.


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