Does copyright trump captioning law?

The copyright symbol in red with a chain and lock all around it
Copyright v. Closed Captioning

Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group, defends the importance of disability law in a recent column on its policy blog amid the creation of new technology accessibility regulations following the passage of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, signed by President Obama in October 2010.

The act requires the Federal Communication Commission to develop regulations ensuring that websites include closed captioning, which makes them accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. During recent hearings on the regulations, representatives from some companies, such as AT&T, have argued that copyright protections prevent video programming distributors from adding or improving captions to videos that fail to meet the Act’s requirements.

Public Knowledge argues that modifying videos to include closed captioning would not violate existing copyright laws because captioning should qualify as “fair use,” a term used to define certain actions that can be made to products without infringing copyright laws.

However, Public Knowledge argues that if the captioning does, in fact, violate copyright law, then the Act specifically requires the FCC to modify its regulations so that disability accessibility law supersedes restrictive copyright laws that discriminate against people with hearing disabilities.

“Copyright does not trump a captioning law any more than real property rights trump the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the column argues.


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