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What are the legalities for a website article transcribing service for the blind. Essentially a service that reads articles to create audio files so that the blind can listen to the content instead of having to read it, which they obviously cannot do. Fees would be charged for the service of transcribing, not for the content which is available free online. Obviously, if the content is only available through a paid service, then that would be a different story, but I am focused on the transcribing of content available free online.

  • I believe that there is a statutory exception for transcribing written material for the blind but would have to look it up. Not sure if it is in Title 17 (copyright) or elsewhere. Not sure what its scope is either, it may be limited to certain organizations that do this work. – ohwilleke Jun 29 '18 at 17:27
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See this question on audiobooks. Translating an online work from one form to another (text to voice, or language to language) is creating a derivative work. Only the holder of copyright can authorize creation of a derivative work (17 USC 103). One can always try a fair use defense if you are sued for infringement, in which case the specifics of your proposal matter. If the idea is that a company would select articles to read and make then available behind a pay wall, that disfavors fair use. But if the proposal is to create uncirculated readings for a single paying customer, that moves in the direction of fair use. Commercial exploitation in any shape disfavors fair use, as does open distribution. The extent of copying which is presumably the entire work disfavors fair use. The potentially negative impact on market (it would to some extent compete with an audio version created by the rights-holder) also argues against fair use, though if the work was distributed to just one customer, that would minimize negative impact on market. And yet a further complication is that since the original work is presumably just an "out there" non-pay web page, the "market" would seem to be zero, economically speaking. However, web traffic does have potential cash value. So a fair use defense is risky, but not foolhardy (your attorney will, no doubt, advise that you not take an unnecessary risk, i.e. you should get permission).

There is an exception to copyright at 17 USC 121 for creating alternative formats for the blind:

it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies or phonorecords of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.

as long as certain other requirements are satisfied (not distributed in a format which is not exclusively for use by blind, has notice about infringement and identifies copyright owner). Whether you are an authorized entity depends on whether you are

a nonprofit organization or a governmental agency that has a primary mission to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities

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