UC Berkeley nuked 20,000 Creative Commons lectures, but they're not going away

A ruling about a DC university held that posting course videos to the open web without subtitling them violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (while keeping them private to students did not) (I know: weird), and this prompted UC Berkeley to announce the impending removal of 20,000 open courseware videos from Youtube.

Many archivists announced that they would capture and repost this archive (I understand the Internet Archive is on it), but the first group I know of who've announced a mirror of the UC Berkeley videos is Lbry, a pre-launch startup that says it will eventually host peoples' materials "with no censorship and no advertising." Lbry is making these videos available right now, but only through their command-line API.

The fate of the videos is sad, but it feels like it's also a quirk of history, as the judgment arrived just as it seems likely that videos like these could be subtitled and even translated by software using machine learning (there's already some of this at the margins, like the auto-indexing of Ted Talks).

This could and should be done regardless of whether the videos are licensed under Creative Commons. US copyright law -- and most other copyright systems, and the UN's Marrakech Treaty -- allows for the conversion of copyrighted works to formats accessible to blind people without permission.

Alas, the next generation of video is being specifically designed to thwart the addition of software-generated subtitles by third parties. As the World Wide Web Consortium moves to standardize its DRM system for streaming videos, they've so far rejected all plans to require members to agree not to sue disability organizations that break DRM to allow software to process and subtitle video, a move that has earned it ire from many of its prominent disability-focused members, from the UK's RNIB to Vision Australia to France's Braillenet to SSB Bart and Benetech in the USA.

The organization has just announced the final vote on this plan, and affirmed that protections for disabled people are not to be considered in the final version. The vote closes in a month, and I'll be working with W3C members to let the Director and the organization know that this is a real consequence of this refusal to even discuss protections for disabled web users who need to bypass DRM to make video accessible.

20,000 Worldclass University Lectures Made Illegal, So We Irrevocably Mirrored Them [20,000 Worldclass University Lectures Made Illegal, So We Irrevocably Mirrored Them/Jeremy Kauffman]

Notable Replies

  1. hhype says:

    Strange, because if not for the mirroring at LBRY, the removed videos would have been even more inaccessible to people with disabilities.

    Was it an honest attempt to force Berkeley to make them more accessible by providing captions and other remedies that backfired?

  2. Alas, the next generation of video is being specifically designed to thwart the addition of software-generated subtitles by third parties.

    Wouldn't this then also be a violation of the ADA? Or does that rule only apply to videos offered free?

  3. On the face of it, that would seem to be unlikely to pass as a defense against an ADA claim.

    It is interesting that LLBRY is saying that the videos were 'made illegal' (which isn't quite true) without saying why, or offering to do anything about it. They're saying 'we think this is censorship' but they are not saying, 'we'll pay to make this accessible.' They are sidestepping the issue entirely.

  4. I'm assuming that the objective of the litigants was not to crater access; even if they were in a mean-spirited mood litigation is a lot of trouble to go to merely for the lulz.

    That said, ADA-and-similar do face a bit of a conundrum with this sort of situation. If they do something; by far the cheapest response is to just pull the material(machine-generated CCs tend to suck; and human ones can cost a small fortune, especially by the standards of a program that isn't attached to any real funding source, and exists primarily because delivering files over the internet is pretty cheap); which creates a "So now nobody gets it? Nice job breaking it, cripples!" situation, which is unflattering at best.

    However, doing nothing creates the also-likely-to-be-unhelpful impression that anyone who can offer something on a 'golly shucks, just doing what we can here' basis is effectively exempt from ADA compliance; which creates an incentive to, say, move as much course material as possible into such just-being-altruistic-here repositories to avoid being responsible for expensive and tedious work; which will likely result in negative effects on accessibility over time.

    It's sort of like the "What possible reason could there be to not allow dying patients to try experimental therapies?" question. If you consider only a single round of the game, it's hard to imagine a good reason: yeah, most of them probably don't work; but the non-experimental ones definitely don't work, so it's hard to lose.

    If you consider multiple rounds, though, the easier it is to deliver 'experimental, just trying things here' stuff, the weaker the incentive to ever go for demonstration of efficacy or approval is; since just stringing it along as 'in testing' forever becomes viable.

  5. However, this standard is different from every other one in W3C history, because it is subject to the laws that protect DRM; these laws potentially felonize bypassing DRM, even for lawful purposes like adapting them for accessibility purposes.

    Here is a list of accessibility use-cases that the W3C suite doesn't contemplate:

    It doesn't need to, because for any spec except EME, these cases can be addressed when they arise. But EME, being in a unique realm, requires new test-suites.

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