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

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/03/17/fahrenheit-451.html

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?


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?


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.


I’m guessing the official ADA line of thinking would be that any and all videos would come with captioning provided by the videos author from the get go, so there is no need for third-parties to have access to provide such a service.


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.


Not quite.
Quoting from the announcement in question:

Testing validated that the specification’s approach for captions did not prevent access to captions for users with disabilities.

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I think you’ve described a real problem that is also a “hard” problem.

It deserves our attention as a civilization to work out how to reconcile the competing impulses in a way that serves the common good, and then to iterate on that reconciliation to optimize it.

In addition, several other accessibility concerns were address by W3C at: https://www.w3.org/2017/03/eme-accessibility.html

Testing and accessibility are vital parts of the W3C process for approval.

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.


I don’t know what LBRY is but UC Berkeley is a “place of public accommodation” (a legal term) and as such must follow laws that don’t apply to individuals or other entities. You and I are not required to post captions of videos we upload, I’m not sure even Khan Academy is required to (though they do). But an organization that operates solely online can still be a “place of public accommodation.”

Team LBRY isn’t entirely doing nothing, they mirrored the files in question on their blockchain-bittorrent-thing; but they appear to consider the specific case to be of minimal interest (on the world wide intertubes, with ‘hyperlinks’ you can easily point to more information; “Berkeley removed the videos because of a lawsuit brought by two students from another university” is vague and unhelpful even by print news standards).

If you want to give them points for sincerity, phrases like “the first truly free and censorship-resistant way to exchange content” suggest that they view dis-intermediating the state and rendering the legal action moot in practice as all the solution that is required.

If you’d prefer to chalk it up to cynicism; it’s hard to think of a better publicity test case: a bunch of nicely licenced material of obvious value(so no ugly copyright entanglements, accusations of frivolity and/or kiddie porn); being taken down for reasons that even ADA enthusiasts can debate the merits of, and anyone who likes talking about ‘political correctness’ is certainly against, so no need for the obscure and nearly unsupported protocol to compare unfavorably to an existing boring-but-effective HTTP mirror, because there soon won’t be one.


The same line of thinking that let to the case will inexorably lead to a contention that the University of California is no less liable for the videos mirrored by LBRY. It was UCB’s responsibility to ensure that they were captioned prior to release, and UCB cannot evade that responsibility by taking them down after the fact.

Bad cases make bad law.

Are you a lawyer?

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