Legal Information

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Please also visit Bookshare's complete list of legal agreements and forms.

An exception in the U.S. copyright law, known as the Chafee Amendment (17 U.S.C. § 121), makes Bookshare® possible under the law in the United States, as long as the copyrighted digital books are only available to people with bona fide disabilities.

The Bookshare site does not provide access to copyrighted works for the general public.

Although the requirements of the copyright law exception are quite clear, Bookshare has gone beyond these requirements to ensure broad support for the project. We have been working with the Association of American Publishers, the main industry group, to address publishers' concerns in the design of the service. Many publishers and authors have volunteered to share their works with the disability community through Bookshare, going well beyond the copyright exception. We are also working with the leading disability organizations, including the Library of Congress and Learning Ally (formerly RFB&D). With extensive input from consumers, publishers and leading organizations, we have created a plan for Bookshare that can be supported by a broad array of interests.

Legal Requirements

Bookshare is an online community that allows users with print disabilities to legally share books. It includes the necessary controls to protect against use by non-disabled persons. Bookshare meets the requirements of the relevant section of copyright law, 17 U.S.C. § 121:

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

  • Copies may not be reproduced or distributed in a format other than a specialized format exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.
  • Must bear a notice that any further reproduction or distribution in a format other than a specialized format is an infringement.
  • Must include a copyright notice identifying the copyright owner and the date of the original publication.
  • "Specialized formats" means Braille, audio, or digital text which is exclusively intended for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.

As a project of the Benetech® nonprofit organization, Bookshare meets the definition of an authorized entity. Our status was also confirmed by the U.S. Department of Education, when they made a major award to Bookshare, an award that could only be made to an authorized entity.

Bookshare is based on electronic Braille and digital talking book standards and copyright law recognizes these digital formats as specialized formats for the disabled. Braille books and four-track audio cassettes are the most commonly recognized specialized formats in use over the past thirty years.

In addition, some publishers and authors have provided permission for books and other publications they provide in digital form to be made available in accessible digital formats to individuals with qualifying disabilities either just within the United States or worldwide. For more information, visit our Publisher and Author information pages.

The Seven Point Digital Rights Management Plan

Bookshare makes active efforts to ensure that its collection and its users abide by the law to maximize the benefits realized by the disability community and minimize abuse. Bookshare controls the format of the materials that it provides and ensures the appropriate copyright notices are in its digital publications. Access is restricted to disabled individuals and other authorized entities. Digital rights management helps to ensure that access remains limited to those covered by the copyright law exemption.

1. Qualified Users

Only blind or other persons with disabilities that affect their ability to access print are permitted to download copyrighted books. Bookshare follows the procedures and standards for access to books that were developed by Learning Ally (formerly RFB&D). A Bookshare user must register and supply a signed certification completed by an appropriate professional in the field of disability services education, medicine, psychology or a related area. The certifier must be a recognized expert who can attest to the physical basis that limits the applicant's use of standard print. Appropriate certifying experts may differ from disability to disability. For example, in the case of blindness and visual impairments, an appropriate certifier may be a physician, ophthalmologist, or optometrist. In the case of a perceptual disability, a neurologist, learning disability specialist, or a psychologist with a background in learning disabilities may be the most qualified certifying professional.

In addition, since any U.S. resident who has previously submitted a proof of disability to NLS (National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress) or Learning Ally (formerly RFB&D) would qualify under the law, we have cooperative agreements where NLS or Learning Ally will certify to us that he or she has such proof already.

2. Contractual Agreement

All Bookshare users have to agree to terms of use that forbid violation of the copyright law restrictions on redistribution and use of copyrighted material. Users who violate these terms will lose their access to Bookshare and may suffer other legal consequences as a result of their actions. Attorneys from the publishing industry had the opportunity to comment on these agreements and Bookshare made numerous changes in response to their concerns.

3. Copyright Notice

In order to comply with the copyright law regulating the provision of accessible books to people with disabilities (17 U.S.C. § 121), Bookshare ensures that all copyrighted materials bear a notice that any further reproduction or distribution in a format other than a specialized format is an infringement. Such content includes a copyright notice identifying the copyright owner and the date of the original publication.

In addition, there is other language reminding users of their obligations to use this material only as permitted by their agreements with Bookshare and the law. It also informs people who are not Bookshare users that their possession of a Bookshare digital book is a violation of the copyright law and that they should erase such a book without using or copying it. View the text of the Bookshare Legal Agreements.

4. Encryption

Bookshare encrypts a requested book for a given user, and the files are delivered through secure/encrypted channels.

5. Fingerprint

All copyrighted material downloaded is fingerprinted as part of the encryption process so that the identity of the authorized user is contained within the decrypted material in a difficult to find fashion. This way, if a user illegally redistributes material downloaded from Bookshare, it is possible to confirm both that the materials came from Bookshare and which user was responsible.

6. Security Database

All transactions, encryption codes and fingerprints are stored in a database enabling Bookshare to track any abuse to the source. Users are informed of the existence of this database as part of Bookshare's privacy program, and are informed of the limitations of the use of this data (it will only be used to respond to abuse problems, and not for marketing or other purposes).

7. Security Watch Program

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.

Copyright Infringement Complaints

As explained above, it is not an infringement of copyright for Bookshare to provide accessible books to people with bona fide disabilities. If you believe that a copyright has indeed been infringed, please do one of the following:

  • If you are a copyright owner, please follow the steps as outlined in the Bookshare DMCA Policy (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).
  • If you are not a copyright owner, you can report suspected abuse directly to Bookshare.